With Gessner, Vikings Seek Redemption

Loudoun Valley finished with a 20-4 overall record last season. But the Vikings were so crushed by their regional semifinal loss to eventual state champion Robert E. Lee that, a month later, they still were having nightmares.

"We beat them at [the] Waynesboro [tournament earlier in the season], so that is what made us so mad," said senior setter Erin Gessner. "It stayed with a lot of us a long time, and a lot of us still aren't over it. We're looking forward to going up against them again this year. . . . Hopefully."

If they do, it likely will be because Gessner gets them there. The Vikings are deep in talented and tall hitters, leaving them among the favorites to repeat as Virginia AA Northwestern District champions. But as the setter, Gessner is the key for Valley's offense to run as designed.

"It's like a point guard in basketball," Loudoun Valley Coach Carmel Keilty said of Gessner's role. "She runs the offense. She's got great hands and a real soft touch on the ball. She is quick to get to the ball and anticipates well."

Added Park View Coach Jill Raschiatore: "Erin is a talented setter who is going to make kids around her look better."

That was definitely true last season. Five-foot-11 junior middle hitter Valerie Murphy would stand out on a lot of teams, but she finished with 102 kills and Loudoun Extra Player of the Year honors largely because of Gessner--who recorded a school record 352 assists and 155 service points.

"They are both very athletic," Keilty said of Gessner and Murphy. "Erin is able to get to most anything on the floor, and Valerie, with her jumping ability and intelligence, makes it easier for Erin to get a good set."

Gessner also can choose from junior middle hitter Holly Everhart and outside hitters Kelly Sullivan and Kristen Carlson when the ball is in her court.

But she can't simply choose her team's postseason destiny, so she remains focused on each match and tries not to worry about the team's high expectations.

"It's hard this year because everyone expects so much of us, and I don't want to let it get to our heads," Gessner said. "I just want us to go out there and play as well as we can without letting [the expectations] get to our head."

Top Stories in the Area

The AA Northwestern District's Reconfiguration: This has the veteran members of the district wonderingwhat to expect from the newcomers. Park View, Potomac Falls and Broad Run join the district, which plays during the winter (instead of the fall) and competes in best-of-three matches (instead of best-of-five). "We know Loudoun Valley will be strong--they always have been in our district . . . ," said Liberty Coach Tom Ritchie. "We can look at what the other three teams did last year and have an idea [of what they'll be like], but we really just have to go out and play our game." Fauquier, James Wood and Sherando have left the district and played a AAA Commonwealth District schedule during the fall.

Can Elizabeth Duong Stay Healthy? Potomac Falls Coach Linda Lachey-Helms had high expectations last season for Elizabeth Duong. Then the setter-middle blocker severely sprained her ankle in an early season match and missed the rest of the schedule. Park View went on to an 11-5 finish and lost to Frank W. Cox (Virginia Beach) in the state quarterfinals. This season, Duong is poised to make a comeback--and Lachey-Helms's expectations are as high as they were last year. But the 5-11 junior was not in Potomac Falls's lineup for the season opener against Broad Run on Friday. Duong sprained her knee in an early season practice but is expected to return this week.

Loudoun County, Loudoun Valley Have Players MIA: Blame a successful fall team and illnesses, respectively, for that. The Raider basketball team's season just ended, with a loss in the state semifinals Friday; the volleyball team has been practicing without outside hitter-setter Marie Bolton, who is County's best girls basketball player. Meanwhile, the Vikings were missing five players--including Erin Gessner--in a win over Handley on Thursday because of an outbreak of the flu. Sophomores Valerie Murphy and Kristen Carlson played despite having the virus. "Nine [players] suited up, but not all of them were physically there," said Loudoun Valley Coach Carmel Keilty.

Players to Watch

MH Valerie Murphy, Loudoun Valley: Named Loudoun Extra Player of the Year as a sophomore last year, Murphy logged a school-record 205 digs to go along with 102 kills and 59 blocks. She and setter Erin Gessner helped lead the Vikings to the regional semifinals.

OH-S Lis Bosma, Potomac Falls: This 6-foot junior completed her first year of volleyball a well-rounded player, tallying 90 assists and 62 kills. Bosma and 5-11 junior Elizabeth Duong will form one of the more imposing front lines in the district.

OHs Mia Jones and Autumn Wacker, Broad Run: Last season, Wacker was named All-Extra honorable mention--primarily for her defensive skills--while Jones led the team in kills. "They are outstanding leaders and real good players, both offensively and defensively," said Broad Run Coach Susan Mehl of the seniors.

Area Teams at a Glance

Team 1998-99 Record Coach

Broad Run 9-10 Susan Mehl

* The team will be full of familiar faces for the first-year coach. Mehl--last year's junior varsity head--has four returning starters and six players who were on her JV team.

Liberty 5-13 Tom Ritchie

* The Eagles' five wins were the most in the program's six-year history. Volleyball is gaining popularity at Liberty, as evidenced by the 74 girls who tried out for the squad.

Loudoun County N/A Dennis Sizemore

* Roughly six potential players have yet to step on the court this season. Because of the Raiders' basketball success, Sizemore's squad has postponed its season opener to Friday.

Loudoun Valley 20-4 Carmel Keilty

* Seven players return from a team that lost in the region semis to Robert E. Lee, which the Vikings had defeated earlier in the season and in the first game of that semifinal.

Park View 14-8 Jill Raschiatore

* Setter Megan McCarthy, outside hitters Crystal Doughty and Alissa Simmons, middle blocker Abby Powers and defensive specialist Maureen Greeley will lead the '99 Patriots.

Potomac Falls 11-5 Linda Lachey-Helms

* The Panthers enter the season with a problem that most teams would envy: They have three great setters--two of whom are about 6 feet--and, of course, only two can start.