McLean volleyball keeps energy up in second match of season

Highlander volleyball heads to James Madison for an intense match

McLean loses to James Madison 3 sets to 1

Blurs of white and black jerseys painted the home court for the Madison Warhawks as they faced the McLean Highlanders on August 24th in a nail-biting, four set match. The electrifying energy brought by fans and the booming voice of the James Madison announcer set the tone for an intense game.

In the second game of the volleyball season, the first one away, McLean Volleyball demonstrated clear improvements from their first game against Chantilly. As they’ve adjusted to the loss of key players with the addition of some fresh faces, the McLean players began to find their footing within the team, discovering their own role and rhythm.

“I think that we as a team are still figuring out who’s going to take up the mantle that was left behind when Ella [Park] and Nicole [Mallus] graduated,” coach Samantha Stewart said. “We had a couple of people step up tonight at different moments, but it’s about finding someone who will do that consistently and to whom everyone can look at [during] any point in the match.”

The game as a whole played out like an intense competition of tag. The first point was taken by the Warhawks, but the Highlanders made a swift recovery, taking a small lead with the next two consecutive points. However, Madison soon caught up, taking the lead for the rest of the set.

When the score reached 16-8, a lot of player switches were made by Stewart, jarring the momentum that Madison built up, and earning the Highlanders another two points. Yet, their small victory was short lived—the Warhawks recovered almost instantly, consistently delivering hit after hit, and winning the set with a 15-point lead.

“We took them out of [their momentum] really consistently, which was great because that meant they weren’t swinging as hard back at us,” Stewart said. “But then we weren’t capitalizing on when they were giving us a free ball or an easy ball back.”

The loss of the first set hit the Highlanders hard, but when the second set began, a new flame was sparked. Strong hits from McLean paired with Madison’s tendency to miscalculate the power they put behind serves made for a worthy comeback. McLean quickly established a score of 9-3, led by serves from sophomore Goldie Woods, and kept a solid lead for the whole set, winning it with a score of 25-20.

“Over time I think we developed good rhythm and communication, especially during the second set,” junior libero Hanna Huang said. “We gained a lot of momentum back and I feel like we worked better together as a team.”

Following the second set, McLean and Madison were neck and neck, meaning the next set would give the winning team the upper hand. McLean followed Madison closely for the majority, but still lagged behind, barely keeping up with Madison’s rallies. Set three was a good chase, but the Warhawks eventually took the match with a score of 25-20.

“There’s so much mental pressure,” senior Zaylie Tamashiro said. “It’s not even the skill that’s hard. We all just get into our heads.”

The final set was one full of tension for the Highlanders. Knowing this was the end-all be-all for the team, they fought harder than they ever had before, playing seemingly never-ending rallies in a desperate attempt to gain back a lead. However, with the fear of losing the whole game in this set looming overhead, morale seeped further and further into unknown depths. Every McLean ball was returned with twice the impact. Although McLean put up a good struggle, notably Tamashiro with her last-second saves, they did lose in the end with a final score of 25-20.

“I could tell that in their minds, it was already wrapped up,” Stewart said. “I wish we could have stayed with the intensity, but when you start with such a tough set loss, it’s going to be really hard to maintain the correct mentality to keep going at them the rest of the sets.”

On surface level, the season may not look to be getting off on the right foot, but the team has been continuously showing improvement, and individual growth has only just begun. From their last game alone, the Highlanders have demonstrated incredible development as a team.

“We managed to at least take one set and give them a fight in [another] two,” Stuart said. “We didn’t cower and we didn’t stop swinging.”