Gar-Field and Osbourn Park had secured berths in next week's Northwestern Region tournament, so what was at stake in Thursday's Cardinal District championship was a prize possibly more important than a trophy. It was pride.
Gar-Field came away with the bragging rights, rallying from a two-games-to-none deficit to defeat the Yellow Jackets, 11-15, 17-19, 15-9, 15-10, 15-6, and sweep both the district regular season and tournament titles.
The win gives the Indians home-court advantage in the regional tournament Tuesday, when they will play host to the Commonwealth District runner-up (to be determined today at Fauquier High). It also gave Gar-Field (17-5) its third victory of the season over rival Osbourn Park (15-4), the defending Cardinal District regular season and tournament champion.
The center-court celebration surrounding the Cardinal District trophy had been the Indians' goal since the season's start. To earn it against Cardinal power Osbourn Park made it that much more sweet.
"We built up for this match so much all week," Gar-Field Coach Sue Shelton said.
Junior middle hitter Julia Jackson--who finished the match with 20 kills and four blocks--took it a step further.
"We've been talking about this [moment] since tryouts," Jackson said. "Even though this is my junior season, I wanted to win it so bad this season."
The middle of Gar-Field's lineup was at the heart of the Indians comeback. Jackson and fellow middle hitter Katie Cornwell created an intimidating force at the net. In addition to Jackson's 20 kills, Cornwell--a senior who is in just her second season of volleyball--finished with a career-high 12 blocks.
"We take so much pride in our position," Jackson said.
Jackson got things going in the second game loss, tallying a game-high eight kills and two blocks. The duo combined for several big plays at the net in the next two games and helped put the match away in the fifth game, combining for five kills and three blocks down the stretch.
"Last year we wanted it so bad," Cornwell said. "I didn't play so much then. Last year I just watched as Julia crushed the ball, and I was afraid to even get in. . . . But this year everything has just clicked for me. Ever since the start of the season, something has happened. I'm not sure what, but I'm happy now. I'm so excited."
Shelton can't say enough about the importance of her two middle hitters.
"The middles are very important," Shelton said. "With Julia, you can't tell where she is going to hit it. She can hit left and right. Katie mixes it up well. She hits [hard], and she can tip the ball well. Once Katie got her confidence up, she started to play well. She has really improved."
The loss means Osbourn Park must play at the Commonwealth District champion in Tuesday's regional quarterfinals. More important, it leaves the Yellow Jackets wondering what they must do to defeat the Indians. Ahead by two games after an emotional 19-17 win in the second game, Osbourn Park seemed well on its way to its second consecutive title.
But Gar-Field jumped out to big leads in the final three frames (10-3, 6-0, 8-0), and Osbourn Park could not rally, leaving the Yellow Jackets scratching their heads and wondering where their trophy went.
"When you are up two games and can't put them away, I don't know what better position you can be in," said Osbourn Park Coach Dan Jones, whose team could face Gar-Field a fourth time this season if both Cardinal District teams win their quarterfinal matches. "In the first two games we passed the ball well and played good defense. In the last three games we gave them big leads, and it was not their offense so much--which is good--but we couldn't pass off their serves all of a sudden."