When the two rivals hit the court for the first of two regular-season matches on Thursday night at Osbourn Park, the result should once again go a long way toward deciding the 2012 regular season champion.
Both the Yellow Jackets (9-2) and Bruins (6-3) are coming off four challenging tests at the Loudoun Valley Invitational on Sept. 15. The two teams entered the tournament unbeaten and left with a combined 3-5 record in a field that included No. 2 Stone Bridge, No. 7 Flint Hill and 2011 Northwest Region champion Freedom-South Riding.
“Those matches kind of let us see where we are with the really strong teams in the area. We played well, even in our losses,” Bruins Coach Anna Davila said. “I think it was a little bit of a reality check that let us see where we measure up.”
The Bruins bring a balanced attack into Thursday’s clash in Manassas, led by senior Zoel Stackhouse, who may be the area’s most atypical middle blocker.
At 5-foot-4, Stackhouse looks better suited for the back row, but her 30-inch vertical has made her one of the district’s most explosive players. She leads the Bruins with 55 kills and 21 blocks.
“She may be 5-4, but she plays like she’s 6-2,” Davila said. “We don’t look very big in our huddle, and we meet these other teams with huge girls. But when Zoel gets the right ball, she’s going to put it down, and everybody feeds off her energy.”
Junior Katie Perrin (42 kills) and senior Felicia Huerta (26), who missed all of last season due to injury, provide options in Forest Park’s 6-1 attack, and senior hitter Katelyn Scherber is slated to return from a mild concussion this week.
Like the Bruins, Osbourn Park, which joined the Cardinal District in the 2009 season, is unbeaten in district play and lost only four players from last year’s roster.
Six-foot right-side hitter Brittany Testerman (86 kills) and 5-11 sophomore middle Megan Onyundo (67) pace what Coach Michele Blue calls a “small but tenacious” attack that runs through senior setter Courtney Krebs.
Over the last three seasons, the Yellow Jackets hold a 7-3 advantage in head-to-head matchups, but the two split last season with both contests going to five sets.
“I think what’s nice about playing them is you never really know what’s going to happen,” Blue said. “For some reason in this game, everybody rises up and inevitably it goes to five sets and we’re playing until 11. So I told my girls to get some sleep and be ready.” ....
A pair of heavy-hitters in Northern Virginia notched their 1,000th career kills last week. Stone Bridge All-Met senior Ryan Ackermann recorded hers in a sweep of South Lakes on Tuesday, and O’Connell senior Claire Crutchfield surpassed the mark the following night against Paul VI Catholic....
Loudoun County junior outside hitter Maggie Phillips verbally committed to the U.S. Naval Academy. A three-year contributor and member of the 2010 AA championship team, Phillips is a key part of the Raiders’ potent front line and currently ranks second on the team in kills with 72.
With a team that featured nine returning seniors, Walter Johnson Coach Bill Morris had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Wildcats this fall. He knew they were good, but he thought they might have the potential to be better so he decided to juggle his lineup.
Morris opted to shift his best player, senior Kristen Larrick, from middle hitter to outside hitter in a move designed to maximize her touches. From there, Morris moved players around looking to take advantage of the talent he already had.
“If we just do the status quo, we’ll be good but I’m not sure we’ll make it,” Morris said. “So we’re shaking things up a little bit, and I’m not sure we have anything to lose. We’ll still be good, but this might give us a chance to take it to the next step, which we haven’t done yet.”
So far, the move has paid off for the Wildcats, who are 7-0 and have dropped just one set this season. Larrick has flourished at times in her new role, recording 13 kills in Walter Johnson’s season opener against Bethesda-Chevy Chase and reaching double-digit kills in three of her team’s last four matches, including 17 in a dismantling of Whitman Sept. 18.
Larrick, who will return to her natural position and play middle hitter next season at William & Mary, said the move to the outside has made her a more well-rounded player and that she’s enjoyed having more chances to hit the ball. She said playing outside has slowed the game down for her, forcing her to work on her swing and to focus more on how she makes contact with the ball with her hand.
The transition hasn’t been seamless though, and Larrick said she misses the trust and communication she built and relied on as a middle hitter with Walter Johnson’s setter Stephanie Paul, who will join Larrick at William & Mary next year.
“Of course I prefer hitting middle a lot more. I know I’m not the best at outside hitting,” Larrick said. “Middle hitting is such a huge reward for me. I love when you get the ball and you just slam it, and it feels so good because it’s right there. Outside hitting is more like a placement kind of thing. I mean, yeah, you can slam it, but I wouldn’t say I’m much of a slammer. I know where to place it, who to hit at.”
Stone Bridge and Loudoun County go head-to-head for Northern Virginia supremacy on Monday night in Leesburg. But the Raiders first must get through Potomac Falls on Thursday. The Panthers have won 10 straight since a season-opening loss at County... Centennial moves up one spot after sweeping then-No. 9 Glenelg and Atholton; the Eagles have yet to lose a set this season.... Arundel dropped its first set of the season Monday in a 3-1 win over previously-ranked Broadneck.
(Records through Tuesday.)
1. Sherwood (6-0) LW: 1
2. Stone Bridge (12-0) LW: 2
3. Loudoun County (9-0) LW: 3
4. Holy Cross (9-0) LW: 4
5. Centennial (4-0) LW: 6
6. Damascus (5-0) LW: 5
7. Flint Hill (10-1) LW: 8
8. Potomac Falls (10-1) LW: 10
9. Arundel (5-0) LW: NR
10. W.T. Woodson (10-3) LW: 7