Sports: Lady Panthers rally in Culpeper

Rappahannock’s Danika Kritter gets up high to block a shot by the Blue Devils Tuesday in Culpeper. Photo by Melissa Delcour.

“Like a car in 10-degree weather, we had a slow warming process tonight,” explained coach Jackie Tederick after the Lady Panthers’ 3-1 win on Tuesday night at Culpeper High School.

In set one of the match, Rappahannock had difficulty returning the Blue Devils’ serve. With a sudden awareness they were facing a much-improved team, the Panthers had trouble delivering error-free serves and a bit of trouble with organized play on their side of the court. With a mini-rally at the end of the set, they succumbed, 25-22.

The Panthers’ vigorous huddle cheer — “Step it up!” — ushered in set two, but passing errors soon began to haunt them as the point-for-point struggle continued. The momentum shift came when Danika Kritter unleashed more of her jump serves. On one serve return, a crowd-pleasing bump-set-kill combo from Megan Early, Maddie Kopjanski and Kritter added momentum. Passing and communication improved just in time for a drive to win, 25-16.

Equal effort characterized the first two points of set three. Rappahannock gained control with Kritter serving, and the energy on the court escalated. In an expert serve-receive moment, Addie Swindler executed a precise pass that allowed Kritter to set for Maddie Kopjanski’s dramatic kill that pushed the score to 5-3. Joslyn Smith followed up when she featured her net game. In a powerful “stuff” block that echoed inside the gym, Smith forced a Blue Devil time out.

Lady Panthers continued the dominance, even as Culpeper rallied to boost the score to 18-11. Thrilling volleys entertained the crowd and propelled Rappahannock to a 25-15 victory.

Set three opened with the highest energy of the match. Shelby Thornhill gave a perfect pass that allowed Kritter to perfectly set Kopjanski for a smack- down spike. When Swindler stepped up to serve, she ushered in a 11-point run. Later, teammate Smith highlighted her highly energetic net game. More than once, Smith recovered Rapp’s momentum with her electrifying blocks. The match represented her career high of 12 kills. “I was so pumped,” she said. “It was my best game ever. I love it when I get to tip it and they look like, ‘What just happened?’”

Even as the scoreboard read 22-2, Rapp junior Bryn Sonnett kept her eye sharp. She shot a spike into an open lane down the right line to earn a thrill point.

In a vain attempt to recover, the Blue Devils hit into their net to end the set for Rapp’s 25-5 victory.

One Lady Panther suggested the slow start showed that they “came in too cocky, thinking we’d win.” Coach Tederick agreed but added, “It was pretty cool that they came back from a deficit. That’s how the character of a team gets built. We are 4-0 now, and we’re in line to go to region.”

The RCHS JV team celebrated their own success on the same night. After sophomore Lyndie Paul opened the match with a nine-point lead, Shelby Burnett followed up with a four-point run. The Blue Devils were defeated 25-7.

Lady Panthers varsity volleyball team huddles with coach Jackie Tederick during a point in Tuesday’s match where Culpeper’s Blue Devils were leading. Photo by Melissa Delcour.

“We were a little loose in the second game,” coach Jimmie Swindler said. “Then, Josie Kritter scored six straight to open a big lead . . . which we rode to a 25-13 victory.

“We’d won before,” said Lyndie Paul, “but in the second game we were tired and a little nervous that Culpeper had improved. That made us communicate — talk more — and come back.”

“Everybody played, and everybody contributed,” coach Swindler said. “I’m real pleased with the effort from all players.”

The varsity and JV Panthers next play at East Hardy, W.Va., at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14.