By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s varsity volleyball team was bounced from the Bull Run District postseason tournament on Tuesday by Rappahannock County High School. The Panthers (16-7, 10-7) beat the Mustangs (11-8, 9-8) 3-2 (28-26, 14-25, 23-25, 25-17, 15-8).
Head Coach Erik Healey said the Mustangs struggled with passing and receiving the Panthers’ serves in the district quarterfinal.
“There were too many over passes which are free hits for the opposing team. We also didn’t adjust well to particular servers on the other side,” Healey said. “We looked a little flat, didn’t move our feet to get to the ball. And then we just made errors at the wrong time.”
After losing the first set to the Panthers, the Mustangs won the next two sets.
“We passed the ball better, and then our attackers were finding the open spots and made their defense guess,” Healey said.
According to Healey, the Mustangs were upset after the match. They lost their most recent match against to the Panthers in late September 2-3 as well.
“We were angry and disappointed,” Healey said. “That’s twice now we were up 2-1 on that team going into the fourth set and dropped the final two sets to lose.”
Sophomore Mary Catherine Donovan led the Mustangs in aces against the Panthers with six. Senior setter Caiti Hof led in assists with 37. Senior outside hitter/middle hitter Sally Karstens and sophomore middle hitter Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong led the Mustangs in blocks with four each. Senior libero Dana Sembera had 28 digs in the match.
Last Thursday, the Mustangs lost 1-3 (26-24, 16-25, 14-25, 18-25) to Madison County High School. After being down by as much as seven in the first set, the Mustangs eventually closed the Mountaineers’ lead and then pulled ahead to win the match.
“We had a scare that first game,” said Carol Nowakoski, head coach of the Mountaineers. “I think as the game went on our depth and our hitting power were enough to pull us through.”
Nowakoski said she told her team after that set “to relax and play [their] game” and that it might be hard for the Mustangs to maintain the momentum that helped them win the set. The Mountaineers, who went undefeated against district opponents and only lost one game during the regular season, had only lost eight sets going into the match against Mason.
Karstens had mixed feelings about being one of the only teams to win a set against the defending Bull Run District champs.
“It shows how hard we can fight,” Karstens said. “But I also think that the fact that we won the first [set] and lost the other [sets] shows how we can celebrate too early and get too comfortable with ourselves.”
Hof led the Mustangs in assists against the Mountaineers with 10. Karstens led the team in blocks with six and aces with seven. Karstens and junior outside hitter Casey Sheehy led the team in kills with five each. Sembera led the team in digs with 19, followed by Karstens, Sheehy and senior outside hitter Emily Gile, who all had 11 digs in the match.
Healey said that the Mustangs, who lost only four district matches in 2012, didn’t finish their district season as well as he expected at the beginning of the season.
But recent events haven’t been all bad for the Mustangs – three players were named to the Bull Run District all-district team in the past week. Addo-Ashong was named to the second team, Sembera and Karstens were named to the first team, and Karstens was named player of the year in the district.
The Mustangs still have the Class 2A conference tournament to play, which now has direct bearing on the regional tournaments under the Virginia High School League’s realignment plan. They play their first round match next Tuesday at home against Stonewall Jackson High School.
Healey said the one-and-done nature of the postseason tournaments places more pressure on the team to perform, which might be a challenge for some of the younger players on the roster who haven’t experienced the postseason atmosphere. Also, he is concerned with the team becoming one dimensional during the course of a match.
“It’s easy when players get into the flow of the game to revert to their comfort zone,” Healey said. “In the postseason, we can’t do that. We have to be dynamic.”