by Matt Delaney
Three Mustangs batted the ball and watched as it bounced off the net and back to their side of the court, unceremoniously ending Mason volleyball’s landmark season in a Region 2A East tournament duel with Stuarts Draft High School 3-1 (18-25, 24-26, 25-23, 25-27).
Though a losing effort, Mason had its gutsiest performance of the season as they were gung ho even when behind, admired by head coach Hillary Trebels.
“We wanted them to show mental toughness and resilience all season and we definitely saw good flashes of that tonight,” Trebels said. “Even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted there was…improvement in finding a bit of composure.”
A lackluster opening set aside, Mason started chipping away at Stuarts Draft during the second set. Tied during six different instances, the Cougars pulled ahead late and broke the 24-24 tie to take the set 26-24 after senior outside hitter Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong failed to cross the net on her attempt.
Normally, this is when the regular season Mustangs would have wilted; down 2-0 entering the third set.
But the team-reborn saw Mason storm back after trailing 12-6 and led late 24-21 with kill by junior middle hitter Kate Karstens that muted Stuarts Draft’s rowdy sideline, leading to set-sealing kill by Addo-Ashong moments later.
The team was in an 8-1 hole in the early part of the fourth set but hastily recovered and tied it up 13-13. Mason sparred with Stuarts Draft as the two traded leads seven times until the match’s end.
However the season ended in heart-wrenching fashion for Mason and the home stands, which were palpably tense, as the Mustangs botched Stuarts Draft’s final serve to end the fourth and final set 27-25.
Mason lost and that will be what is remembered of their inaugural foray into the Regional Tournament, but heroic play by underclassmen such as Karstens helped make a near-blowout into a legitimate competition with timely kills in pressured situations.
“In the first and second set I didn’t step up when I needed to,” Karstens said. “What pulled me back is that I realized I couldn’t be selfish, and by me being down on myself I was letting down my team.” The loss is especially sour since it comes on the heels of Mason’s first ever Conference championship which they attained after sweeping district rival Clarke County in straight sets on Nov. 5 (25-21, 25-17, 25-21).
A teetering first set saw Mason emerge victorious at 25-21, and after being down for a majority of the second set, the Mustangs took control midway through to capture a 25-17 win.
Clarke County remained stout for the third set, but Mason simply wanted it more, snatching the lead from the Eagles for the first time after junior setter Andrea Dilao’s ace put them ahead 19-18 and the Mustangs strolled to a 25-21 victory. The ladies, as you might’ve imagined, were ecstatic about their achievement.
“I am honestly so proud,” Addo-Ashong said. “I’ve always been looking forward to this day, I’ve always wanted to win something in first place…I’m really glad we’re finally able to do it, especially my senior year.” Sophomore setter Isabella Ashton was equally as excited. “It’s enormous…because we’ve been working towards this forever and this year it worked out.”
As the ladies left the locker room for the final time long hugs were shared with one another followed by warm smiles.
The season may be over, but the future is bright for the young Mustangs, and the team knows it.
“I think it was a really good first run, I’m pretty pleased with it,” Trebels said. “We have a solid crew and we’ve got a great [junior varsity] staff…and the girls are dedicated to it; I would expect us to be back the next couple of years.”