By Matt Brooks
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 21, 2010; 12:45 AM
RICHMOND - All season Stone Bridge was waiting to be challenged. Following an early season five-set loss to AA state title winners Loudoun County, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the Liberty District, the Northern Region and their first two opponents in the AAA state tournament.
But in Saturday's AAA state final against Kellam at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center, with a single victory standing between them and the program's first state championship, the Bulldogs finally met their match.
Facing a Kellam team with the same rare combination of size and balance that keyed Stone Bridge's run of success, the Bulldogs came up just short, as the Knights dug their way to a 25-22, 18-25, 26-24, 25-14 victory.
The balls that Stone Bridge's hitters put down with ease in Thursday's semifinal found their way back over the net all night, forcing the Bulldogs to ramp up their defensive effort and vary their hitting approach. After dropping the first set for the first time all season, the Bulldogs (28-2) rallied behind a jolt of grit and emotion to pull even in the second. Midway through that set, Stone Bridge senior outside hitter Christine Beckham needed three vicious swings on a single point to put the ball past Kellam's relentless defense. That would be a theme all night as both teams produced miraculous digs to extend points and seemingly deflected or blocked every other ball that came across the net.
"We've never had anyone that can consistently dig," Stone Bridge Coach Jill Raschiatore said. "When they do it play after play it kind of wears on you - like, where are the holes, where can we possibly hit?"
The two teams battled back and forth in a tense third set that featured eight ties, but Kellam senior Taylor Rehfuss hammered home a kill on set point to turn the match in the Knights' favor for good. Despite Stone Bridge's best efforts, Kellam (32-3) pulled away in the fourth set to seal its first state championship.
"It was our first really big challenge of the year, so it was fun," senior libero Amy Christensen said. "It was kind of a shock for us. We've never had to face something like that before."
Beckham led the Bulldogs' offense with 18 kills, junior middle hitter Alex Heyn had six kills and four blocks and sophomore Ryan Ackermann added 12 kills. Senior setter Amanda Miller had 40 assists and in the back row, Christensen flung herself all over the floor to pile up 40 digs in the final match for the team's five seniors.
"This is one of the most talented teams that any of us has every played on," Beckham said. "We're definitely sad it's going to end, but there's going to be more to come."