By Stephen Smoot
With big wins over double A Keyser and rival Petersburg to open the season and a trip to Moorefield coming later in the week, Pendleton County could have had a classic “trap” game against visiting Union.
The Wildcats, however, took the Tigers by the tail, although not without a fight.
Union opened the game with a serve, but witnessed Carolyn Varner issue a perfect set to Lizzie Alt, who placed a return perfectly to open the scoring for the Wildcats.
Varner played sparingly on varsity last year. On the junior varsity squad, she achieved one of the more rare feats in sports, however. She started a game serving and held it the entire game. Twenty-five serves led to the same number of points. This year, the Wildcats rely heavily on her steady serve and her sure handed sets.
Early serves by Varner, combined with Union miscues, took the score quickly to a 4-1 advantage for the home team. Then Alt took over serving, keying an 11-0 run punctuated by three aces, two Avery Townsend spikes, and spikes by Gabby DePue and Baylee Beachler.
Later in the first game, with Pendleton County cruising, Emma Hartman took the serve. Like Varner, she played as a reserve last year. She opened her service in this game with an ace to extend the lead to 18-4.
Senior Allie Cooper then worked to close out the first stanza. The Union return of her first serve resulted in a Beachler spike. Cooper then helped her team score the next two points before the Wildcats turned over the serve.
Cooper helped to take the game point with a great set to Varner who tapped it over for a 25-8 result.
The second game saw other Wildcats step up to make big plays. Pendleton County once again jumped out to an early lead. A ball served by Beachler was returned by Union, only to see Alt set Varner, who placed the ball perfectly for a Kate Hedrick spike. A few minutes later, Breena Bowers put the ball in play for Pendleton County, leading to a Tiger return that resulted in yet another Hedrick spike for an 11-5 advantage.
Bowers’ time serving brought her team four straight points. Beachler closed the second game out with an exclamation point ace and a final of 25-9.
Despite the athleticism and poise that controlled the contest for the home team, Union tried to respond as the game progressed. They improved at handling the aggressive spiking of the Wildcat front line. The Tigers also moved the ball better on their side and extended the number of volleys.
By the third game, they had stopped challenging the Pendleton County front line, getting better at finding open spots in the middle and back lines of the Wildcat defense.
While Pendleton County in the final game once again seized an initial lead, Union succeeded in putting together more relatively consistent runs. After a 9-3 start to the game, highlighted by spikes by Beachler and DePue, as well as an Alt ace, the Tigers scored two in a row. Then after an Alt spike put the lead at 17-5, Union rolled off a 4-0 run.
Though they never posed a challenge, the Tigers clearly showed improvement through the course of the game as they played one of the best teams in the area.
Bowers, Cooper, and Hartman played big in the second half of the final game. Hartman’s serves, starting with the score at 11-4, helped her squad score four straight, including an ace, a Hedrick spike, and a Varner block.
Cooper’s serving lifted the advantage to 20-9. The stat sheet did not reflect her diving for and chasing balls aimed toward the back, keeping many in play.
Bowers then returned to serve with the score at 22-11. Solid defensive play and an ace brought the Wildcats to the edge of a win. Union then seized back the serve and scored, but a Beachler block closed out the win, three games to none.