After Osbourn Park defeated Gar-Field for the first time this season in the Northwestern Region semifinals Thursday, it would have been easy for the Yellow Jackets to try to forget their three previous failures against the Indians this season.
Instead, Osbourn Park senior Megan Wilson smiled when discussing the team's challenging season and the lessons learned from it.
"Right now, I'll put them behind me," Wilson said of the three losses to Gar-Field, including a blown two-games-to-none lead in the district final. "But it's a lesson to be learned. Don't get too confident. . . . This whole season has been like a big dream. Not a good dream, necessarily, but each morning after a match I wake up and wonder what's happened."
Yesterday, Wilson and her Osbourn Park teammates surely awoke in good spirits. The night before, the Yellow Jackets had fought off a match point to rally and defeat No. 9 Gar-Field, 15-4, 6-15, 11-15, 16-14, 15-6.
The victory puts the Yellow Jackets in today's Northwestern Region final at Albemarle and guarantees Osbourn Park a berth in next week's state tournament.
"We all hate to lose," said Osbourn Park senior outside hitter Chris Batson, who finished with 17 kills, the most important of which extended the match in the fourth game. "We hate to lose to the same team again, and we really hate to lose to Gar-Field. It's like stages of how much you hate losing."
In its three losses to Gar-Field, Osbourn Park fell victim to service errors and an inability to handle the Indians' big hitters. On Thursday, the Yellow Jackets excelled in those areas, getting a number of key digs by Jenny Protzko and Chrissy Mora and two blocks from reserve middle hitter Lindsay Swanigan.
"It's almost like they had been frozen in their footsteps, in awe of what has been coming at them," Osbourn Park Coach Dan Jones said. "But I think they learned they can get a hand on the ball and keep it in play."
Osbourn Park carried the momentum from its fourth-game win into the final frame and jumped out to a 7-0 lead fueled by two Batson kills. Wilson (20 kills) added two kills and an ace as the Yellow Jackets expanded their lead to 13-3. Gar-Field tried to fight its way back, rallying behind three kills and an ace from senior outside hitter Katie Ratchford (18 kills). But a Wilson spike opened a 14-6 lead, and a Gar-Field error ended the match.
The Yellow Jackets entered the match shorthanded, with sophomore Melissa Burlovich and junior Amanda Ferguson out with injuries. Senior Heather Capelli played despite back spasms and an injured ankle.
"If OP had played the [match] like they played the other three, we would've beaten them," Gar-Field Coach Sue Shelton said. "But they stepped up to play."
The loss ended what had been a successful season for Gar-Field and first-year coach Shelton. But after defeating Fauquier in the quarterfinals, Shelton knew beating Osbourn Park a fourth time would be a challenge.
"Once it got down to crunch time, we weren't able to step up," Shelton said. "We were getting nervous and tentative and lost confidence in ourselves. . . . It's been exciting. No one predicted us to be where we are. We had a great season and we have nothing to be ashamed of."
CAPTION: Above, Osbourn Park's Megan Wilson lifts a shot over Gar-Field's Katie Cornwell, left, and Jacie Roberts in Thursday's Northwestern Region semifinals. Below, Osbourn Park's Camille King, left, blocks a shot by Cornwell. With their victory, the Yellow Jackets earned a spot in the state tournament next week.