When Loudoun Valley junior Blair Brown finally swatted down the final point in the Vikings' hard-fought, five-game win at Stone Bridge on Thursday, the players -- and their fans -- erupted in celebration. Vikings senior defensive specialist Jennifer Everhart rushed into the outstretched arms of her twin sister, Jessica, who had leapt from the stands onto the court as the rest of the players searched for their family and friends.
But Coach Laird Johnson wasn't quite ready to let his second-ranked Vikings loose just yet. First, he had a message to relay. So Johnson huddled his team together to pass along one quick but important fact.
"Ladies," Johnson said, "you just won the district tonight."
That's when the real celebration began.
The Vikings' 19-25, 25-21, 25-16, 23-25, 15-10 win over the Bulldogs locked up the AA Dulles District title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming district tournament with one week of the regular season remaining. It also kept the team's dream of an undefeated regular season intact.
"Obviously, we've practiced for these kinds of situations, but tonight was the first time this year we've actually seen a fifth game," said Johnson, whose team improved to 18-0 overall and 12-0 in the league. "I was proud of the way the girls responded. There was some great volleyball played out there tonight on both sides."
Loudoun Valley, which was led by Brown's 26 kills and eight solo blocks, still must face Park View and Loudoun County before the playoffs begin.
"Everyone expected us to go far in districts, but no one thought we could go undefeated," senior setter Jennifer Todd said. "But we're pushing ourselves every day to achieve that. To leave Loudoun Valley going undefeated to win districts would be awesome."
Poised for Greatness
Heritage may be one of the youngest teams in the AA Dulles District, but after the season the Pride has had, there's no questioning its poise or experience.
Heritage rallied from a two-games-to-none deficit Thursday at Potomac Falls to record a 23-25, 17-25, 25-13, 25-22, 15-11 , its second such comeback in 10 days.
The Pride needed a similar effort to rally for a 3-2 victory over the Stone Bridge Bulldogs on Oct. 11.
This one proved even more critical. The win not only leaves Heritage (14-4, 9-3) in second place in the district but also just one victory shy of locking up the No. 2 seed in the district tournament, with games against Loudoun County and Dominion remaining.
Youngblood Is Back
Stone Bridge senior Amanda Youngblood served four consecutive critical points in the Bulldogs' game-one victory over Loudoun Valley on Thursday in a match in which the No. 2 Vikings were pushed to a deciding fifth game for the first time this season. In most circumstances, Youngblood's achievement might not be noteworthy. But for Youngblood, who just over a month ago underwent gallbladder surgery, it was more than memorable.
"This game's been my life since I was in the second grade," Youngblood said. "I've devoted my entire life to volleyball, and I love it. To be back out here playing, especially in a game like tonight, felt amazing. I played my heart out, and so did everyone on my team."
Youngblood was in the middle of a serving rotation Sept. 9 at Heritage -- and had just registered an ace -- when she rushed off the court, then vomited and collapsed in the school's back hallway. It took two days and dozens of tests before the inflamed gallbladder was discovered. Youngblood, who said she lost about 25 pounds with the illness, underwent surgery a few days later and missed more than two weeks. She returned to the court Oct. 7 at Park View and since has worked her way back into the Bulldogs' starting rotation.
"When she came back, she was obviously still physically tired and weak," Coach Jill Raschiatore said. "And as a team, we had moved forward and had made a lot of progress in the middle. So when she was ready, we moved her to the right side instead of middle where she can offer us a better block. It's worked out really well. And her serving, which helped us so much tonight, has always been her strong point. It's great to have her back."
Hofer's All Set
Potomac Falls junior setter Kathryn Hofer almost didn't try out for the Panthers' volleyball team this season. The reason was simple: fear.
Numerous injuries to her teammates last season necessitated Hofer playing some games at setter, a position that was both unfamiliar and, she said, not much fun. And so with the graduation of starting setter Katherine Mims, Hofer was afraid she'd be expected to fill that role.
"I just didn't think I was very good at it," Hofer said. "I'd end up apologizing after every play last year because I'd think it was a bad set."
Panthers Coach Linda Lachey-Helms saw otherwise.
"She's always had great hands," said Lachey-Helms, whose team is 10-7 overall, 6-6 district. "And she also has great reaction to the ball, which is something you really can't teach. But last year she would beg me, 'Please don't make me set!' She'd sit over on the bench biting her nails and pleading with me.
"So when I heard rumors that she wasn't going to play this year because she didn't want to be a setter, I told her to come on out anyway and that we'd find another position for her."
Hofer chose to give setting one more try. And after a couple of practices of "not doing bad," by her own assessment, Hofer was hooked.
"I was really timid and insecure about it at first," Hofer said. "But our first game against Loudoun Valley, even though we lost, I really felt like I was on. And it was the most fun I'd ever had playing. Now, I love it."