Stone Bridge's target drills vary often at volleyball practice, depending sometimes on the day and, other times, on Coach Jill Raschiatore's mood. In Monday's version, the players had to make accurate passes to a designated target and then run back and touch the gym wall as another teammate switched in. Together, the group had to make 40 consecutive clean passes to the appropriate target before the drill would end.
"We do a lot of those types of drills in practice," junior Samantha Ingersoll said. "And sometimes it feels like they're never going to end. But it really helps us when we get away from practice and into a game situation. It gives us confidence."
It also, apparently, gives them quite an edge.
That could not have been more apparent than at Tuesday's match at Loudoun County, where the Bulldogs eased to a 25-20, 25-12, 25-12 win over the Raiders on the strength of a superb defensive effort and powerful offensive attacks. The lopsided scores had a much different feel from last season, when Stone Bridge (7-1 overall, 3-0 in AA Dulles District) and Loudoun County (4-2, 2-1) clashed four times, with the Bulldogs winning the district tournament title and the Raiders the Region II crown.
Both teams, though, graduated key seniors from last year's squads that advanced to the Virginia AA semifinals.
"We're a much younger team this year, and because of that we had some holes early [on defense] that needed to be addressed," Raschiatore said. "And the way to do that, for us, was to give these girls more touches on the ball. That's why we do so many drills. Well, that and because I just love defense."
Senior outside hitter Emily Vera led the effort with a team-high nine digs and also added six kills, helping the Bulldogs build early -- and what proved overwhelming -- leads in each game. Senior setter Jenny Wheaton also contributed 18 assists and 13 service points, but it was Ingersoll, who has moved from middle to outside hitter, who stole the show with a game-high 11 kills and four blocks.
Ingersoll said she initiated the move during the club volleyball season because, at 5 feet 11, she thought working on the outside would give her more options. She has been able to maintain that transition at Stone Bridge, Raschiatore said, because 6-1 senior Nikki Buchholz (5 kills, 6 blocks) has developed so well in the middle.
"Last year, we ran her in the middle because we felt like we had to," Raschiatore said. "But she's really more natural on the outside, so we'll keep her there as long as we can."
And though the Bulldogs went to Ingersoll often, she still proved tough to stop.
"Sam was really pounding the ball tonight; they all were," Loudoun County Coach Jenica Brown said. "We needed to do a better job blocking to have a chance, but we just couldn't get it in the right place.
"We're working through our unforced errors and gaining our team consistency. We're not there yet, but we're working hard."