Heritage's young volleyball team had been pushed to five games five times during the regular season, and each time the Pride had prevailed.
So when the 10th-ranked Pride rallied from a seven-point deficit late in the fourth game of its AA Dulles District tournament semifinal against Stone Bridge on Thursday night to push a deciding fifth game, there was plenty of reason for Bulldogs Coach Jill Raschiatore to worry.
And two very big reasons not to.
Behind the dominant jump-serving of junior Samantha Ingersoll and senior Emily Vera, the Bulldogs pulled out a 16-25, 25-21, 25-23, 23-25, 15-7 victory to advance to yesterday's district tournament championship game against No. 2 Loudoun Valley. The Vikings swept Potomac Falls. Both games were at Loudoun Valley. (Yesterday's match ended too late to be included in this edition.)
Stone Bridge's victory also secured it the district's second berth in the Virginia AA Region II tournament. The Bulldogs, making their third consecutive regional appearance, join regular season district champions Loudoun Valley (AA Dulles) and Fauquier (AA Northwestern) in advancing.
"What I was thinking and what I was actually saying to the girls right after that fourth game might not have matched," Raschiatore said. "It was a little scary because Heritage is a very scrappy and determined team. I knew they wouldn't give up, and I knew they'd be confident. But I also felt like we could do it. We just had to pull it together."
She had reason to worry. Heritage had taken out some of the area's toughest teams in the most dramatic of ways, defeating Loudoun County and Potomac Falls twice each and Stone Bridge once.
On Thursday, Stone Bridge led 3-1 in that fifth game when Ingersoll went back to serve, and three straight aces -- two of which nicked the top of the net before falling on Heritage's side -- extended that margin. Vera got the call on match point, and her only serve of that fifth game was also an ace. The duo combined for 27 service points and 16 aces in the match.
"Sam and Emily were both extremely consistent tonight," Raschiatore said. "I don't think we caught them off guard, exactly, because one of their strengths is the ability to keep balls in play. We just served at the right times."
Heritage, whose only seniors are outside hitters Lauren Mellott and Heather Presor, finished its season with an overall record of 19-5 two years after going 1-19 in its inaugural campaign.
"These girls came from every which way, from several different schools, and in three years together put themselves at the top of the district," Heritage Coach Carmel Keilty said. "It's a real credit to them, and especially to our two seniors. They've started something here. And I think this group of girls is headed for some really good volleyball the next couple of years."
This season rolls on for others. Loudoun Valley (22-0) will host Northwestern District runner-up Sherando (18-6) Tuesday in one Region II quarterfinal, and Stone Bridge (16-6) will travel to face No.7 Fauquier (21-2) in another. Game time for both matches is 7 p.m.
"I think there's always that concern in the back of your mind that [Stone Bridge] plays in a tougher district, but I also have a lot of confidence in my girls," said Fauquier Coach Diana Story, whose team got 17 kills and two aces from senior Kathleen Crosby in a 3-0 sweep of Sherando on Thursday that secured the Northwestern District tournament title for the Falcons. "We've really been getting a complete team effort. And I feel confident we can step to the level of whoever we're playing."
Fauquier, riding a 15-match win streak, defeated Stone Bridge, 3-2, on Sept. 2. Loudoun Valley, which was dominant in its 3-0 victory over Potomac Falls in its Dulles District semifinal Thursday, has not faced Sherando this season. Vikings junior middle hitter Blair Brown recorded 11 blocks and 18 kills in Thursday's semifinal win, increasing her career kill total to 1,003.
"This team is exactly where I want them to be at this point," Loudoun Valley Coach Laird Johnson said. "We still have some things to improve on, but we're getting better and better. We're right there. We have a well-balanced team from our attacking to our defense and our serves. And we do obviously have that one essential player that everyone has to be aware of, but we've also got great talent around her. I couldn't be more pleased."