The point left No. 2 Stone Bridge rattled and facing a two-set hole in a raucous Loudoun County gymnasium in Monday night’s clash of perennial state championship contenders. For a team that had dropped only three sets all season, the adversity provided both an unfamiliar feeling and a rare opportunity for the Bulldogs.
Sparked by a key tactical switch, the Bulldogs rediscovered their defense and began hitting over and around the Raiders’ front line to claw their way back into the match. In the decisive fifth set, the combination of Ackermann’s forceful swing and Libby Haslett’s two-way play in the middle powered Stone Bridge to a 18-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-22, 15-13 victory.
“I hope to never be down two sets again, but if we are, we all in the back of our heads can fall back to this night and know that we can get out of it,” Bulldogs Coach Jill Raschiatore said. “If you can get out of it in this gym, in this atmosphere, you know that you’re capable of getting out of anything.”
From the outset, No. 3 Loudoun County sent waves of six-footers to the net as the Bulldogs scrambled to keep the ball off the floor. Six-foot outside hitters Taylor Huewe and Maggie Phillips pounded the lines while 6-foot-2 middles Rachel Roberts and Jane Feddersen frustrated Stone Bridge’s hitters with blocks and tips.
But after dropping the second set, the Bulldogs (14-0) — whose tallest player is 5-11 — switched Haslett and sophomore middle Shannon Williams in their rotation, flipping their matchups across the net. The move paid instant dividends as both players chipped in with key kills to help Stone Bridge take the third and fourth sets.
The rally left Stone Bridge visibly spent and they quickly fell behind in the fifth set. But with her team trailing 7-4, Ackermann told junior setter Cydney Gill to feed her. Gill obliged, and the reigning Northern Region player of the year responded with five straight kills and a block to put the Bulldogs on top 10-8.
Three Feddersen kills helped the Raiders (10-1) knot the score at 13, but Haslett came through with kills on the final two points to seal the win and keep the Bulldogs’ perfect record intact.
“We didn’t want to come all the way back only to lose it in the last set,” Haslett said. “Both teams walked in here undefeated, and it feels good to be the team walking out undefeated.”
Ackermann finished with 26 kills, Haslett added 20 and Gill set a school record with 69 assists in the match. But numbers aside, the Bulldogs gained valuable experience as they look to return to the state semifinals in Richmond for the third straight year. Huewe tallied 20 kills, Roberts put down six blocks and senior setter Megan Fox had 40 assists for the Raiders who had lost only one set in their first 10 matches.
“We knew this was going to be our toughest competition until we get down (to Richmond), so we were under a lot of pressure,” Ackermann said. “This was a team we had to beat to give us momentum for the rest of the season, so it was a huge win for us.”
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