By Stephen Smoot
With big victories under both of their belts early in the season, Pendleton County and Moorefield came into last Thursday’s contest ready to prove their primacy in Potomac Highlands volleyball. Both teams brought complete effort with results closer than the simple set wins would indicate.
The Yellow Jackets opened the first set with the serve and inched out to a 2-0 lead. On their third serve, however, Allie Cooper received and popped the ball in the air. Carolyn Varner ranged underneath it and set up a strong Baylee Beachler spike to cut the slender lead in half. Varner then took the serve for Pendleton County. A Lizzie Alt block at the net tied the set at two.
Moorefield and Pendleton County are mirror images in style. Both schools attack the net, using sets and big spikes to intimidate the opposition. Both squads have superior athleticism and sufficient height. The Yellow Jackets had a slender edge in player experience, as well as the crucial home court advantage.
After the Wildcats tied it up at two, Moorefield went on a six-to-one run to gain an 8-3 lead. Pendleton County then went on a run of their own to pull within two, highlighted by sound serving by Beachler. Then, during serves by both Breena Bowers and Cooper, Alt and Kate Hedrick made big plays at the net to help take the lead at 12-11.
For most of the rest of the set, the two squads battled. Neither team could extend a lead farther than three. After Moorefield tried to take control, gaining a 19-16 lead, the Wildcats clawed back with a Hedrick block at the net and an Avery Townsend spike to get within one. Though Pendleton County kept the score tight the rest of the set, they could not break through to seize the lead again. Moorefield took the first set 25-22.
Set number two started off with a bang as Varner delivered a low trajectory serve whose return resulted in a Beachler spike. Moorefield responded with a spike of their own on the next serve to tie it at one. The Yellow Jackets extended their lead to 3-1, but a spike followed by a block at the net by Gabby DePue knotted the contest back up.
The next serve by Alt started a furious set of volleys ended by a Beachler block. Alt followed that by an ace to give her team a 5-3 advantage. The Yellow Jackets then unleashed their stingers and pushed ahead 9-6, their run halted when Varner dove at a ball, saved it, and placed it perfectly in the Moorefield back corner.
Moorefield appeared to take command shortly thereafter, running out to a 14-9 advantage, then another five point lead at 16-11. Varner then blocked a return at the net and followed that with an ace. Big plays by Beachler and Alt at the net brought their squad back to a tie game at 16.
Although the Yellow Jackets regained the lead, they could not pull away. They went up 24-21, then saw spikes by Townsend and Hedrick pull Pendleton County within one. Only a perfectly placed return to the back secured the set for the home team.
At this point, Pendleton County was down. They never are, however, out. In workmanlike fashion, they built an early 12-5 lead. DePue, Beachler, Hedrick, Alt, and Varner dominated the front while Cooper hustled in the back, often saving shots from the floor. Emma Hartman and Bowers contributed aces, as well.
The home team, however, relentlessly ground away at the Wildcat lead, tying the game at 18. Pendleton County retook the lead and worked to maintain it with crucial serves by Bowers and Cooper, as well as big plays at the net by DePue and Alt. DePue’s spike put the Wildcats on the verge of a set victory.
With a 24-21 lead, Varner served the ball, which was returned toward Beachler. She leapt into the air as if to spike, but instead deftly tapped the ball to an open spot on the floor. This play, she made an art form last season. As the Wildcats celebrated an apparent set win, the official ruled the hit illegal and gave the point to Moorefield.
Given a second chance, the home team put the set and the hard-fought game to rest.