Wood overcomes serving errors to beat Sherando

STEPHENS CITY — To see the James Wood volleyball team commit 20 service errors on Thursday was surprising, to say the least.

What wasn't unexpected was that the defending Class 4 state champions raised other aspects of their game to overcome those mistakes. With the postseason set to commence, it's obvious it's going to take a lot more than the benefit of unforced errors for an opponent to displace this boulder of a team.

The Colonels dropped a first set in which they committed seven of their season-high total in service errors but rebounded for a 3-1 victory (21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-15) and a season sweep over Sherando, who had a nine-match winning streak snapped.

Despite having at least four service mistakes in each set, James Wood (21-2, 8-0 Class 4 Northwestern District) never trailed in the second or third set and faced its last deficit at 10-9 in the fourth set against the Warriors (15-5, 5-3). The Colonels are now a perfect 18-0 in best-of-five matches this year.

"In the huddle, we said, 'Just get the ball over [on serves], and we can do the rest,'" said Colonels sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Spaid, who had a match-high 18 kills. "We have trust in each other to just put the ball down [for points], even if our serves weren't working tonight."

The Colonels were efficient on the attack (just eight errors overall compared to 55 kills — Sherando had 11 attack errors in the last two sets), and they were dogged on defense. Spaid had a strong 11 digs, but four other James Wood players had more in a 77-dig performance. Senior setter Hannah McCullough had a team-high 17 to go along with her team-high 21 assists.

McCullough had one dig in the third set where she dove about six feet from the net to get the ball up just before it hit the floor, Spaid deflected the second touch forward just before it caromed off her upper body, then Paige Ahakuelo flicked the ball over with two hands just before it hit the net for a kill.

"I think we were super scrappy," said the senior opposite and setter Ahakuelo, who ranked second on the team in kills (12), digs (16) and assists (14) on Thursday.

The Colonels have won 23 straight best-of-five matches since the start of last year's Region 4C tournament. They'll begin their title defense on Tuesday as the Region 4D North No. 1 seed at 6 p.m. at home against No. 4 Charlottesville (7-13) in the Region 4D quarterfinals. The Black Knights and Handley had the same record this season, but Charlottesville won a coin flip for the postseason berth.

The Warriors put up an excellent fight, but James Wood dug in and slowly pulled away in each of the last three sets.

Sherando was within striking distance at 14-11 in the second set before Wood outscored the Warriors 11-5. The Warriors trailed 14-11 and 21-17 in the third before the Colonels scored three of the last four points. A 7-0 run backed by Spaid's serving gave James Wood a 16-10 lead in the fourth, and leading 19-15 the Colonels scored the last six points of the match propelled by Addie Pitcock's serving.

Seven of the eight James Wood players with a service attempt had at least one error on Thursday, but the Colonels were never in any real danger of losing against a quality opponent.

"Serving was a little bit of an issue, but we tried to make up for it in other ways," James Wood coach Adrienne Patrick said. "In the huddle I was telling them if one person doesn't come through in a specific area, than we've all got to pick it up, because they're a group of extremely talented girls, and they can overcome that bit of adversity.

"If one aspect of your game isn't on, you need to pick it up somewhere else, and I do think we did that in the last three sets."

The victory completed another wildly successful regular season for the Colonels. James Wood swept 16 of their 23 matches and defeated two 2022 state champions (West Virginia's Musselman and Maryland's North Hagerstown), two 2022 state semifinalists (Class 4's Dominion and West Virginia's Hedgesville) and perennial power Millbrook (twice), which is always one of Virginia's top programs. Their only defeats were two best-of-three matches at the Endless Summer tournament in Virginia Beach to 2022 Division I private school state champion Flint Hill and Class 3 runner-up Hidden Valley.

Patrick said she's been both happy and proud of her team's performance this season, and is looking forward to the future.

"I have certain expectations for them, and my expectations are pretty high," Patrick said. "I would say they were able to rise and meet my expectations.

"I don't think we look at anything being given to us by any means. We have to work for every single success, as evidenced by tonight. Sherando played a great game. As far as the team being able to pick themselves up and handle challenges that they potentially face in the future, I do feel like this group is capable of doing that."

One of four seniors for the Colonels, Ahakuelo is looking forward to giving everything she has in the postseason.

"I think we're all excited," Ahakuelo said. "I'm excited to play with [my team] for the last time, and especially their scrappiness makes me want to play with them even more."

Spaid said beating Sherando by the scores of 25-6, 25-17, 25-7 on Sept. 21 might have had the Colonels thinking that history would repeat itself on Thursday, but the Warriors are a much different team from that match. That was Sherando's last loss, and it avenged defeats to Kettle Run and Millbrook during its winning streak.

"Compared to the last game [against James Wood], we did a lot better with communicating and bringing up our energy," said Warriors senior middle hitter Sarah Starling (nine kills, two blocks, two aces). "We've all gotten to know each other a lot better and how we play and act on the court. We've all adjusted and work well with each other."

In the first set, the Warriors won back-to-back scramble points that ended with a block and a kill to go up 13-11, and never gave the lead up despite repeated charges by James Wood. The fifth kill of the set by Helena Ritter — who was moving towards the center of the court as she hit the ball — closed out the set. Ritter had 11 kills total.

Sherando coach James Minney said beating Millbrook was a big step for the team, and the confidence from that victory showed on Thursday.

"We improved a lot from last time," said Minney in comparing Thursday's match to the first one against the Colonels. "I feel like our hitters are playing better, and we're playing the floor better. I was going in hoping we'd just be respectable, make them work at it and not hand them the match, and I think we made them work to win.

"I enjoy playing James Wood, whether we win or lose,because they will challenge you. I like that, and I know the girls like that, too."

The Warriors will be the No. 3 seed for the Region 4D North and will travel to No. 2 Millbrook for a 6 p.m. quarterfinal match on Tuesday. Starling said Thursday's match should help the team as it gets ready to take on the Pioneers for a rubber match.

"Even though we lost [Thursday], it was a good game, especially to prepare ourselves for Millbrook," Starling said.

James Wood was also led by Brenna Corbin (10 kills, 12 digs), Ashlynn Spence (13 digs, eight kills, five assists) and Tenley Mattison (three blocks). Tylea Lane and Ashley Smith had five kills each for the Warriors, and Amanda Ingrassia had three kills and three aces.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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