Three weeks ago, the Stonewall Jackson volleyball players held a meeting to air their grievances in what had been an unfulfilling season to that point.
The Raiders have not lost since, a streak of seven straight wins that included a 21-25, 25-23, 25-15, 18-25, 15-9 victory over Osbourn Park on Thursday night in the Cedar Run District championship at Osbourn.
The Raiders' first volleyball championship banner since 1981, however, did them little good in the Northwestern Region tournament pairings.
This fall, the Cedar Run decided that its regular season district champion would earn the top seed into region tournament play. In the past -- and still the case in the Cardinal District -- the tournament champion earns the top seed into regionals.
So, even though Stonewall (16-5) won the district tournament title, it will have to play at Cardinal District regular season and tournament champion Forest Park in the region quarterfinals. Forest Park is the defending state champion; the Bruins defeated Stonewall twice this season.
It was a payback of sorts Thursday: Stonewall had gone unbeaten in Cedar Run play last season but fell to Osbourn Park in the district championship. This time it was Osbourn Park, which had swept each district opponent in three games, that got upended.
"We decided we wanted to do that to them this year," said Stonewall senior setter Katie Speaks, who had 34 assists and joined seniors Kirby Jenkins and Sophia Foroughi and sophomore Holly Speaks in what might have been the best performance of the season by the Raiders' back row.
"There were balls that everybody thought would hit the floor that somebody dove and dug up, and I think it kind of frustrated [the Yellow Jackets]," Speaks said.
Frustration is what the Raiders felt through the first half of the season. There were a series of injuries, one of which, a back ailment, knocked out junior Edith Hutt for the season. And with 10 seniors, there was some friction in regard to leadership. That's what led to the air-clearing meeting.
"I'm very proud of the maturity they used to handle all of it and come through it," Stonewall Coach Jessica Hruska said. "In past years, if we had had issues to this level, I don't think they would have been able to overcome them, but because they're older, they have."
Stonewall racked up 48 kills against Osbourn Park (18-4), including 19 by Monique Barbour, 14 by Heather Page and 9 from Kendra Sloan. All three are seniors. Senior Kaitlin Crutchley led the Yellow Jackets with 14 kills in her team's first five-game match of the season.
"Right now, we're not really sitting -- except for mentally -- anywhere differently than we were last night at 6 o'clock before we played," said Osbourn Park Coach Kate Southcott, whose team in the region quarterfinal will host Hylton, an opponent it swept twice this season.
"We just have to pull positives out of what happened last night and keep going forward. We played all right last night. They just definitely wanted a banner up there and we'd [prevented] them from that for three years in a row. . . . That group of seniors have been wanting it to happen."