It was an all too familiar feeling for George Mason High School’s volleyball team, losing their 2A Region tournament home opener for the third year in a row last Saturday. And adding to the sense of déjà vu, the Mustangs were defeated by Staunton-based Robert E. Lee High School in the first round for the second consecutive season.
“We have a bit of a mental block with this particular game because we get to this point every year,” junior setter Evelyn Duross said after the team’s 3-0 loss. “We need to work on getting the lead, following through and not giving up after. We have to get points every single time we get an opportunity.”
Opportunities abounded for Mason as they navigated through an arduous three-set match. The Mustangs were able to demonstrate some grit as they tied their opponents at eight different intervals. However, the one area where the team had vastly improved all year — their ability to close out sets and clinch matches — vanished when the team needed it most.
In the first set Mason was in prime position to flex their closing muscles and snag a pivotal win. Down 19-18, the Mustangs quickly tied before service errors and a Leemen score had them facing a 22-20 deficit. Junior outside hitter McKenzie Brady led the charge to help Mason knot up the score at 23 apiece and had the crowd juiced up for the possibility of an opening set victory. That was until a Leeman spike followed by a Mason hit out of bounds let Lee claim the set, 25-23.
All was still hopeful for the Mustangs in the second set, which was unquestionably a must-win for the home team wanting to stay even with the visitors. At first Mason and Lee traded scoring spurts as the Mustangs went up 4-1 before the Leemen responded by taking a 7-6 lead soon after. Mason eventually settled in and began grooving with big kills from their juniors in outside hitter Riley Ruyak and setter Savannah Williams, along with Brady, to take a 17-11 lead. Though after Lee called a timeout, the Mustangs began to deteriorate.
“They got the momentum,” Mason head coach Hillary Trebels said. “Volleyball’s a big momentum game and we talk about trying to be consistent instead of emotional…We got in a little rut and it’s hard to come out of that mentally.”
Lee scored four consecutive points before scoring another four straight to tie the game at 19-19. A Mason error that preceded a Leemen kill and a block put the Mustangs down three. After getting a block of their own, Brady nailed two kills to bring Mason within one at 24-23, but Lee was able score again and negate any comeback with another 25-23 win.
The final set showed that the Mustangs had conceded defeat. A quick 8-2 advantage for Lee foreshadowed the rest of the set, as the visitors went up 16-7 and eventually 20-10 before sealing the match at 25-14.
It was another gut punch for Mason, just as early Novembers have been historically for the team. Trebels still considers the season a success — and she should. The team overcame an early season hiccup to earn second in the Bull Run District and truly did develop a knack for closing games.
Only problem is the team picked a bad time to not show it off. This loss will sting for now, but the inherent beauty in sports is there’s always a next year. Hopefully by then the Mustangs will be ready to make some history.