As the Loudoun County girls' tennis team accepted the second-place trophy on a cool, overcast day at Radford University, the Raiders seemed to be content. They graciously congratulated their opponents and beamed for photos taken by eager team parents.
Shortly after a 5-2 loss to Jamestown and missing out on a chance to win consecutive state titles, the reaction may have seemed surprising. But not to the Raiders.
"There's nothing we could have done differently," said senior Mindy Hsiao, the Raiders No.1 singles player. "I think they deserved this title."
For the second time in three years, the Eagles (20-4) were better than the Raiders (18-4). They defeated the Raiders in the state semifinals in 2002, then lost to the Raiders, 5-4, in last year's final. Saturday's win gave Jamestown its fourth state title in five years.
After convincing wins throughout the Region II tournament and a day earlier in the Virginia AA semifinals against Abingdon, the Raiders struggled Saturday. They won just 11 games combined in dropping the top four singles matches -- all in straight sets.
Loudoun County's Mary Kearl and Amy Sarver won at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, to extend the match into doubles play, but it didn't last long. Kelly Maxwell and Whitney Ball dispatched the Raiders with a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Lauren Dyer and Kearl at No. 2 doubles.
"We honestly got beat by a better team," said Loudoun County Coach Randy Hanger.
The loss ended a run that a month earlier seemed unlikely. Whereas Loudoun County was a dominant team with two standouts atop its lineup in 2003, the Raiders spent most of the regular season adjusting to an overhauled lineup.
Blakeley Griffith (Tennessee) and Jessica Nixon (Radford) were gone, and Hsiao and Madison McGuire were thrust into the top two spots. Laura Halley, a freshman, became the No. 3 player. Seniors Dyer and Kearl settled in at Nos. 4 and 5.
The Raiders lost three times to Dulles District rival Loudoun Valley but began to jell in the state tournament. They shocked Loudoun Valley, 5-1, to secure a third consecutive Region II championship and knocked off Abingdon in the state semifinals.
"We got here [the state finals], and I think everyone was like, 'Wow. We got here,' " Hsiao said.
That was not a surprise to Hanger, who had told his players that overall they were better than last year's team, if not as talented at the top.
"I really did figure we'd get back to the state finals this year," Hanger said. "They have been overachievers this year."
Hsiao and McGuire were proud the Raiders went back to the state final for the second straight year -- even if they couldn't beat Jamestown this time.
"This is a complete success because we weren't really expecting it," McGuire said. Jamestown was "the better team this year."