A quiet bus ride gave way to silent concentration in the stands as the Stone Bridge volleyball team prepared for its Dulles District match Friday night against host Potomac Falls. The Bulldogs, focused on reversing their loss to the Panthers on Dec. 17, remained calm throughout the junior varsity match.
Once the match started, however, the hush lifted and Stone Bridge's players often shouted in celebration throughout a 15-9, 15-5 victory.
"We wanted to make sure we were excited but relaxed," junior outside hitter Kristi Fertick said. "We were focusing on the game all week, talking about it, making sure we were ready. On the bus, we just wanted to get focused."
Stone Bridge (12-3, 8-2 district) has featured a balanced attack all season, and several players turned in performances that produced frequent joy in team huddles, loud congratulations from the sidelines and noisy cheers by the small contingent of fans at the game.
Senior defensive specialist Rachel Halpin had 11 digs, and senior defensive specialist Kristina Butler and freshman middle hitter Samantha Ingersoll each had 10 digs.
Ingersoll and junior outside hitter Taylor Lowe each had nine service points and one ace. Fertick led the team with eight kills and also had eight assists.
"We haven't beaten them in three years, so we were very pumped for the game; we've been pumped up all week," Fertick said. "Last time, we won the first game, but we let down and lost the second two, so this time we tried to never let down and stay excited."
Said Lowe: "We've been ready for this game since the last time we played them, so we were just pumped up."
Sophomore hitter Emily Mims had five kills for Potomac Falls (9-5, 6-3), and senior setter Courtney Gjormand had seven assists. After falling behind early, the Panthers were never able to mount a comeback.
"We had some girls that just had a terrible night," Potomac Falls Coach Linda Lachey-Helms said. "Stone Bridge played well, so I don't want to take anything away from them, but some of my players just had a bad night."
Said Stone Bridge Coach Jill Raschiatore: "Confidence-wise, it's important, but I hope we don't become overconfident and rest on our success."
Mathews Sets Up Raiders Loudoun County was already on a roll when senior Laura Mathews stepped to the service line near the beginning of Wednesday's match with Heritage. But the Raiders' only senior took her team's hot streak to another level, serving 13 straight points to set up a 15-1, 15-7 victory.
The Raiders' fourth straight win improved their record to 9-6 overall and 6-3 in the Dulles District. The team closes the season this week with three matches in four days, including back-to-back meetings with Loudoun Valley (Thursday) and Stone Bridge (Friday).
After last year's three-win season, the Raiders are relying on solid back-row play and an increasingly effective front-row block.
Three players -- Laura Mathews, her younger sister Jackie and Tricia McLister -- have at least 100 digs this season.
Meanwhile, 5-foot-10 Whitney Knudsen (40 blocks), 6-1 Allison Hahn (21 blocks) and 5-7 Katie Jensen have eased the defensive load by shutting down hitters at the net. The Raiders neutralized hard-hitting offenses from Potomac Falls and Fauquier during their current win streak.
"Defense has won us the majority of our games," said first-year coach Jenica Brown, who helped the team acquire new uniforms at the beginning of the season to symbolize a break from past losing seasons. Defense "was the first thing I taught them, and we work on that pretty much more than anything else."
Special correspondent Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.