It's never easy to find perspective after a tough loss.
Finding motivation after one, however, is a different story.
Fourth-ranked Loudoun Valley saw its season -- and its hopes of repeating as Virginia AA softball champion -- end Saturday with a 1-0 loss to eventual champion Turner Ashby in a Virginia AA semifinal. The game lasted 10 innings and was stretched over two days because of inclement weather at Radford University.
Before their tears had dried, the Vikings were looking ahead.
"We're going to get it next year. I know we will," junior All-Met shortstop Jennifer Everhart said resolutely after emerging from a long embrace with Jessica Burke, Loudoun Valley's center fielder and lone senior. "We didn't do everything we needed to do today to win, but with all of us coming back . . . we won't let that happen again."
Not that replacing Burke will be easy. Burke, an All-Met in 2003 who will play for Mount St. Mary's College, was a part of more than 60 Loudoun Valley victories in her three-year stint on the varsity team. Coach Joe Spicer said she was also the team's emotional leader this season.
"You don't replace a kid like that," Spicer said. "Not only is she a great ball player, but she's the one everyone on the team turned to, too. I think her personality, the way she motivated the other girls, will be a greater loss than even her athletic skills."
Still, the other 12 players on the Vikings' roster, many of whom were a part of last season's title-winning team, are expected back. Loudoun Valley finished 24-4 this season and has won 46 of 52 games the past two years.
"Last year was awesome, and we figured that with so many girls back we'd have a shot at it this year, too," junior catcher Britney Hilling said. "We all wanted it really bad. Things just didn't go our way. But we all know that if we work hard, we have just as good a shot at getting back here next year."
In fact, some of the fans who packed the bleachers and lined the fence at Radford were already predicting a rematch between these two teams in next year's playoffs. All 15 players on Turner Ashby's roster are juniors or younger.
The two teams were very evenly matched. Loudoun Valley totaled six hits; Turner Ashby had seven. Vikings junior pitchers Cassie McGaha and Jamie Fraysher combined for six strikeouts and three walks (two intentional). Knights junior pitchers Kelly Fox and Whitney Eye struck out a combined nine batters and walked one.
Each team also squandered several opportunities for victory before Eye's RBI single to short center field in the bottom of the 10th ended the game. Loudoun Valley had the bases loaded in the top of the seventh and runners on the corners in the ninth; Turner Ashby (27-2) had the bases loaded in the sixth and ninth.
"Yeah, I have a feeling we'll see these girls again," Spicer said. "We just have to work hard in the meantime to get better. And, hopefully, we can use this loss to motivate us along the way."
It seemed that was happening well before the Vikings loaded onto the bus back to Purcellville.
"I'm ready to play them again right now," Hilling said. "And I bet every girl on this team would say the same."