Heritage's five-game victory over host Loudoun County in volleyball Tuesday night could not have been more dramatic. But if the excitement -- or the angst -- got to Pride Coach Carmel Keilty even once, she never let on. Instead, the longtime and much revered coach who took over Heritage's program when the school opened three years ago -- leaving behind a Loudoun Valley team she guided to back-to-back Virginia AA titles in the winter of 2001 and 2002 -- maintained her ritual calm during each timeout.
No matter the situation, each time Keilty signaled for a break she would rise and stand silent as her players reached for water bottles. Though they then quickly huddled around her, Keilty never once spoke before the last water bottle had been put down.
With her team trailing the host Raiders by a game and down 8-3 in the second, Keilty's first message was delivered quietly but concisely.
"You're just going through the motions out there," she told her team. "You're playing with no energy. No enthusiasm. Pick it up."
The Pride did, siding out on the next play and then watching junior Kaitlin Petrella rattle off five consecutive service points to take a 9-8 lead. Heritage went on to win the second and third games before dropping the fourth and, for the fifth time this season, being pushed to a deciding fifth game. Still, there was no panic. Even when Heritage's 14-8 lead in the fifth had evaporated into a much more precarious 14-14 tie -- and with all of the momentum seeming to shift to the home team -- Keilty's voice never raised.
Her last timeout message was delivered in the same soft, confident tone as the first.
"Take care of it today," Keilty said. "Don't wait."
Again her team responded, and back-to-back kills by senior Lauren Mellot (12 kills, 15 digs) not only secured the 19-25, 25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 16-14 victory but also wrapped up the second seed in the AA Dulles District tournament, which begins Tuesday.
"I told the girls they only had to win one to finish second," said Keilty, whose team also could have secured its seeding with a victory over Dominion today. "But at the same time I told them they needed to do it with a big win, and this was that opportunity. Coming from the bottom of the barrel two years ago to this . . . it's amazing. I'm so proud of these kids."
Said Mellot: "We were just in the locker room, and [middle hitter] Alana [Rudkovsky] was saying how we're such drama queens. We really do have a flare for the dramatic."
Heritage (15-4, 10-3) has won all of its five-game matches, twice each against Loudoun County (11-8, 8-5) and Potomac Falls (11-7, 7-6) and once against Stone Bridge (13-6, 8-5). With second-ranked Loudoun Valley (19-0, 13-0) having wrapped up the district regular season title and top seed in the tournament, that leaves the Bulldogs, Panthers and Raiders battling through Thursday's final play date of the regular season to determine who will finish third through fifth in the district standings.
"It's important to get in that top four to be able to play the opening round at home," Loudoun County Coach Jenica Brown said. "That's always a huge mental edge."