When an inexperienced Loudoun Valley volleyball team lost three of its first four matches this season, a fourth consecutive trip to the Virginia AA semifinals must have seemed like a distant fantasy. When a disjointed and injury-plagued Fauquier team lost four straight matches in early January, its motto of "one team, one dream, one state title" appeared similarly far-fetched.
But both righted themselves immediately after those struggles -- Loudoun Valley by winning 14 of 15 matches and Fauquier by claiming seven out of nine. When the teams meet for the third time Friday night at Broadway High School with a berth in the state final on the line, neither will be at a loss for confidence.
"I think we're equal," said Fauquier senior Ashley Young. "It's whoever wants it more. It's not going to be easy, but the confidence is there."
Loudoun Valley senior Alana Boylesaid she thinks "we can definitely beat them. They are a really good team, and they have some really good hitters, but I think we can do it."
Fauquier's strength clearly lies in its offensive firepower. The Falcons (18-8) got back on track when junior Nicole Galvydis returned from an early-season right knee injury, giving senior setter Elyse Walker an able partner in running the offense.
Young and fellow senior hitters Blair St. Onge, Lindsey Davis and Barbara Downes receive most of the attention for the Falcons. All four have bowled over opponents with screaming blasts this season, with Davis occasionally causing defenders to shake their hands in pain.
The team has more offensive strength on the bench. Amanda Lewis and Ally St. Onge each contributed important kills in last Saturday's day-long Region II tournament.
Loudoun Valley "has a few weapons, but we have six weapons," Galvydis said. "It's going to be a struggle, but I think we can definitely come out ahead in that match."
In a 7-15, 15-0, 15-11 victory over Chancellor on Tuesday, the Falcons' confidence was evident in little gestures. Despite the first-game loss, Davis found time to clap her hands and spin in little circles before game two, and St. Onge had a playful exchange with Chancellor fans who disagreed with an official's call.
"It took us awhile, but we finally gained our composure," Galvydis said. "We have a bad habit of getting a little far behind. We just tell ourselves it's one point at a time."
Loudoun Valley's determination came through in its 15-9, 9-15, 15-10 victory over host Jamestown, the Region I champion. The Vikings' younger players, notably freshman middle hitter Blair Brown (11 kills, 3 blocks), have matured while jelling with the team's few veterans.
"At this point in the season, we're battle-tested," Coach Laird Johnson said. "We played in a big tournament at Waynesboro, and we had to play against some good teams, and I think all of those things help in this situation."
After beginning the season with only one returning starter, the Vikings (20-8) are in position to add a third consecutive state title. Friday night's match against Fauquier will be the third meeting between the two teams, and the Falcons have yet to lose. They won handily in December (15-3, 15-9) and in thrilling fashion in the Region II final last weekend (11-15, 15-6, 15-12).
But Loudoun Valley senior Lori Potts insists the Vikings are more seasoned than in December, and that they'll be fresher than they were on Saturday.
"The first time we played them, it was our first game of the season, and we had a brand new team with only four returning players, and we hadn't molded yet," senior hitter Lori Potts said.
"On Saturday, they played really well. They outplayed us, but we played two games before that and played the district tournament the night before, so we were pretty tired. But they are a good team, and I think it will be a good game."