Potomac Falls volleyball coach Linda Lachey-Helms doesn't have many reservations as to how talented her team is. Problem is, sometimes the players forget that. A couple balls don't bounce the right way, a few serves sail into the net and suddenly a shred of doubt is ingrained in their heads.
But after a 25-22, 25-23, 16-25, 25-21 victory over Stone Bridge in Sterling on Tuesday night, the Panthers didn't seem much like a team lacking in confidence. In a match that could go a long way in sorting out a jumbled playoff picture in the AA Dulles District, Potomac Falls never relented.
"Often in the past, we've played not to lose as opposed to playing to win," Lachey-Helms said. "That wasn't the case tonight. They came out here to win, and it showed."
At no point was that more apparent than in the final game. The Panthers had lost handily in the third game, and the Bulldogs (13-5, 8-4) threatened to push it to a fifth after grabbing a 19-18 lead. But by the time senior hitter Emily Mims registered her game-high 22nd kill of the night, the Panthers had scored seven of the match's final nine points.
"We try not to force anything and look for the money hitter," said Lachey-Helms. "More often than not, Emily's our money hitter."
The match unfolded fairly typically for when these two teams play: a flurry of lead changes (there were 15 ties in the final game), overworked knee pads and perhaps a few accelerated heart rates. Some of that had to do with the fact that these teams split their first two meetings; some of it had to do with what the match could mean down the line.
Although second-ranked Loudoun Valley has all but locked up the top spot in the playoffs, Potomac Falls (10-6, 6-5) could sneak into the third or second seed if it finishes strong.
"Even though we had beaten [the Bulldogs] the last time, they did not give us anything," said Potomac Falls senior hitter Lindsey Facemire, who had eight kills. "We had to fight just as hard as we did the last time we faced them."
When Potomac Falls lost the first meeting, its serving faltered late in the final game. But on Tuesday, the Panthers, who were led by Mims's 10 service points and four aces, served well down the stretch.
"We have a lot of good servers," Mims said. "That does so much for you when you can take another team's serving defense out of it."
Behind junior hitter Samantha Ingersoll, who finished with a team-high 15 kills, Stone Bridge controlled the net and came out more deliberately in the third game. Bulldogs Coach Jill Raschiatore said her team needs more of that as the playoffs loom.
"It's what we're capable of doing," she said of her team's performance in the third game. "If we can play with the kind of emotion that we had in the third period, we're capable of beating anybody. If we don't play with that emotion, we could lose to anybody."