Second-ranked Loudoun Valley entered Thursday's Virginia AA Region II volleyball semifinal against Western Albemarle having swept its previous six opponents. So when the Vikings dropped the third game to the Warriors after dominating the first two, the raucous home crowd was understandably stunned.
Loudoun Valley quickly put its faithful at ease with a 7-0 run to start the fourth game en route to a 25-11, 25-13, 24-26, 25-11 victory that clinched a berth in the state tournament, which begins Tuesday.
"We all wanted that fourth game," Vikings junior middle hitter Blair Brown said. "We should have had the third game, so we came out in the fourth and just said, 'This is it. No more after this game.' I think we just took charge after that."
Besides qualifying for states, the win propelled Loudoun Valley (25-0) into last night's regional final at home against R.E. Lee of Staunton. (The match ended too late for this edition).
The Vikings completely controlled the first two games Thursday and appeared ready to extend their streak of consecutive sweeps. The Warriors (18-4) looked unnerved early on as Loudoun Valley jumped to a 12-2 advantage in the first game and a 9-2 lead in the second. Western Albemarle had no answer for Brown, a 6-foot-3 menace near the net with a powerful spike.
"We were a little bit overwhelmed by their speed and power at the beginning," Warriors Coach Lance Rogers said. "It took us a while to catch up to the pace they were setting in the match."
The Warriors were more composed in the third game and took a 5-1 lead. They limited Brown to two kills in the game and eked out the final two points to break a 24-24 tie.
After the rare setback, Vikings Coach Laird Johnson huddled with his team to regroup.
"I told them to relax," Johnson said. "I said, 'Go back to playing the way we played the first game. Get the emotion level back up. Play like we've played all season. Just go out there and do the things you're supposed to do.' "
That meant setting up Brown for her vicious spikes. She registered six of her game-high 17 kills, two blocks and an ace in the fourth game.
"She's the player that you go to when you want to set the tone," Johnson said of Brown. "By setting her up right away, it opened up my outside, and they carried on."
Several Vikings complemented Brown's performance, demonstrating why Loudoun Valley is a serious contender for its second state title in three years.
Sophomore Jamie Sapp and senior Amanda Kole each had nine kills, while senior Sarah Neikirk added six. Neikirk also finished with four aces to go along with Brown's five.
"Everybody plays wonderful," Neikirk said. "Of course, Blair is great. But we all play as a team, and we all work together. I don't think it's any two individuals. We're all a good team."
Brown agreed that the entire team's strong play, not just her own, has the Vikings eying a state championship.
"We have amazing unity on our team," Brown said. "We all just got to know each other. We know each other's movements. We just play well together."
As for a possible state title, several Vikings maintained they are focusing only on their next opponent. They also acknowledged it's an exciting thought they are trying to ignore.
"It's a one-game season at this point," Johnson said. "Every game is a season to us. As long as we have success on the court, we get another season. That's the way we like it."