The Flint Hill volleyball team did itself no favors when it set the schedule for its eighth annual invitational tournament.
Seeded in the second of two four-team groups, the No. 4 Huskies played three matches Saturday morning to reach the semifinals, then faced perennial Virginia Independent School Athletic Association title contender Liberty Christian and No. 6 Holy Cross with no break in between.
With a pair of narrow 2-1 victories, the Huskies (17-1) emerged as tournament champion, and proved to the teams on hand — and themselves — that they are back.
From 2008 to 2009, Flint Hill claimed three straight Independent School League crowns, captured two City Championships and hung three state championship banners. That string of success, which included a 33-0 record in 2010 and consecutive season-ending No. 1 Post rankings, made the Huskies’ 2011 season all the more difficult to stomach. With a roster loaded with inexperienced underclassmen and beset by injury, they finished a modest 19-16 and failed to reach the state final or City Championship match.
“We graduated a lot of talent there in 2010, so last year — I don’t like the word, but — it was a rebuilding year,” ninth-year Flint Hill Coach Carrol Anderson said. “We were young, and it showed.
“That humbles you a little bit, and it makes you appreciate the wins a little bit more. But those were lessons for our team, and now they’re paying off.”
The Huskies returned all six starters from last year’s team, including senior captain Haley McClure and sophomore middle Michelle Abt. Flint Hill also added free-swinging sophomore Ally Ford, a transfer from Tuscarora, and brought back 5-11 middle blocker Erica Narel (N.C. State) after one year of home schooling. Ford leads the team with 189 kills while Narel is establishing herself as one of the area’s top defensive presences at the net.
That foursome provided the firepower during Saturday’s grueling run and will continue to give the Huskies multiple attacking options as they gear up for the playoffs.
“The depth of talent is so different this year from last year,” Anderson said. “We have four solid hitters, which allows us to be unpredictable.”
The Huskies, whose roster features seven sophomores, will aim to notch their 13th straight win on Thursday night at rival Good Counsel.
“We’re starting to click now, and the tough schedule is definitely going to help us,” Anderson said. “The future looks pretty bright.”
As her counterparts in Maryland and Virginia make their way through the meat of their schedules this month, Wilson Coach Perette Arrington is just getting started.
Wilson (2-1), the four-time defending champion of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association and one of the only D.C. public schools to play a non-conference schedule, opened its season Sept. 22 in a tournament match against Model and played its first conference game Sept. 27 against Cardozo.
Stephanie Evans, the DCIAA’s athletic director, said that the late start to the season is based on the timing of the conference’s championship (Nov. 20), similar to how the conference’s football schedule is built backwards from the annual Turkey Bowl championship.
Arrington, the 2011 All-Met Coach of the Year, said that while volleyball teams are allowed to begin practicing in mid-August with other fall sports teams, many schools struggle to find coaches and fill their rosters. The extra month before the season opens gives teams a chance to get organized.
“I’ve been involved in volleyball for so many years that I know what the expectations are,” Arrington said. “But sometimes the other high school coaches probably don’t start looking for players or having tryouts until the first week of school. I think downtown, our athletic office is allowing time for teams to form.”
Evans, who took over as DCIAA athletic director last November, agreed that there was work to be done building up volleyball programs in the district but denied that the late start to the season is a built-in time for teams to get settled. She added that since arriving in her job nearly a year ago, changes to the volleyball schedule have not been among the many questions and concerns that coaches have raised with her.
“Do I think that, from what I’ve observed, there’s some necessary work to bridge the gap between middle schools and the high schools? Absolutely,” Evans said. “We do have some high schools that, based on what I see, struggle for numbers, but it’s hard to imagine struggling for numbers when you have 16 middle school teams. So I think that there is some work that needs to be done in bridging that gap and we’re certainly working to figure out the best way to do that not only in volleyball but in many of our sports.”
Stone Bridge rallied from a two-set deficit Monday to edge Loudoun County in a thrilling five-setter.... Flint Hill went 7-0 over a six-day span that included a 2-1 win over Holy Cross in the final of the Huskies’ annual invitational.... Magruder arrives in the rankings after beating both Northwood and Wootton 3-1 last week.
(Records through Tuesday.)
1. Sherwood (7-0) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (14-0) LW: 2
3. Loudoun County (11-1) LW: 3
4. Flint Hill (17-1) LW: 7
5. Centennial (6-0) LW: 5
6. Holy Cross (14-1) LW: 4
7. Damascus (8-0) LW: 6
8. Arundel (7-0) LW: 9
9. W.T. Woodson (11-3) LW: 10
10. Magruder (13-0) LW: NR