Woodbridge junior middle hitter Brittni Dixon-Smith and her teammates had geared all season toward winning a Cardinal District semifinal and earning the program's first Northwestern Region tournament berth in years.
So how were the Vikings to take the news Tuesday that second-year coach Fernando Montanez was making drastic changes to their rotation? Should they consider it a strategic maneuver that could provide the edge they needed to upset Hylton in the semis, or was it a blow to their collective confidence that their coach deemed such an overhaul necessary on the day of their most important -- and perhaps last -- match of the season?
"At first we were like, what are we going to do with these adjustments?" Dixon-Smith said. "We haven't been playing like this the whole season."
Montanez's tweaks paid off and Woodbridge rallied from a game down to knock off Hylton on its home floor, 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-20 after being swept by the Bulldogs there just last week.
Woodbridge (10-7), which has more than doubled its win total from last year, advances to face Forest Park (19-2) in the district championship at 7 tonight at Hylton. Both teams have earned regional berths. The Bruins topped Freedom, 25-8, 25-17, 25-9 in the other semifinal Tuesday night.
Montanez thought a lack of speed in his back row had cost his team in the losses to Hylton, so he gave freshmen Casey Burdette and Allie Petock and sophomore Ashley Evans more time there Tuesday night and also made other changes.
"We've played them twice before and we realized that offensively we were there, but when it came to covering their tips, we were always just a fraction of a second behind," Montanez said.
"We were really scared about trying [the new lineup]," said junior outside hitter Norma Casey, who switched sides on the front row as part of the shake-up. "We came an hour early [to Woodbridge] to practice the rotation and then we came here and we practiced it and made sure everybody had it down. I'm very surprised that it worked, because we just found out today."
Montanez, with five freshmen and no seniors on his roster, thought Woodbridge might be primed for a significant victory even before the lineup changes, based on progression throughout the season and perfect attendance at a 6:45 a.m. optional practice Saturday.
Woodbridge showed marked improvement in its two Forest Park matches, winning only 32 points off the Bruins in the first meeting but 57 in the second.
"Believe me or not, they want Forest Park," Montanez said. "We want Forest Park. We want the best teams out there. That's how you learn."
Hylton (15-6) also wanted Forest Park. It will be tough for the Bulldogs to not be involved in a district championship on their home floor tonight, particularly after sweeping Woodbridge during the regular season. A Hylton-Forest Park final was the general assumption.
Hylton led in two of the three games they lost Tuesday, 14-11 in one and 12-9 in another.
"We made some adjustments, but we couldn't manage to just get our game consistent," said Hylton Coach Karen Mays, whose team returned only three players from last year. "Our defense struggled all night. . . . Our passing really struggled. We missed a lot of serves. We did a lot of things that were inconsistent that make it tough to win."