All eyes will be on top-ranked Loudoun Valley this week as the Vikings, led by senior All-Met middle hitter Blair Brown, open play in the AAA Northern Region tournament with their sights set on extending their 53-match win streak and earning a second consecutive state title. It would be the Vikings' fourth in five seasons -- only this time in Class AAA.
Loudoun Valley, the Virginia AA champions, isn't the only team with such lofty goals. Five other area programs also begin play in their respective regional tournaments this week with similar aspirations of advancing to states, meaning half of the 12 public high schools in Loudoun and Fauquier counties will be represented.
The difference with Loudoun Valley is that after playing an independent regular season schedule (with no district title available) and easily winning the AAA National District tournament title, the stakes now increase dramatically.
"It's exciting, finally," Loudoun Valley Coach Laird Johnson said. "I don't want to take anything away from the competition we've faced so far this year, because we played some very good teams out here. But the girls are excited about moving on, because we've sort of been in no-man's land for 10 weeks. It's exciting to finally have a focus and a purpose to our season."
Loudoun Valley (24-0) and No. 6 Stone Bridge (20-2), winners of the AAA Liberty District regular-season and tournament titles, each will host its Northern Region opener at 7 p.m. tomorrow. With a win, each team also would host a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday before potentially moving on to the semifinals Thursday at Centreville High. The Vikings open against Lake Braddock; the Bulldogs, led by All-Met middle hitter Samantha Ingersoll, get Herndon in the first round.
Being seeded in different brackets sets up the possibility for an all-Loudoun County region final, which would be quite an accomplishment for the schools in their first season of AAA play. The top two teams in each region advance to the state tournament.
"I think it says a lot about the quality of volleyball we have in Loudoun County," said Stone Bridge Coach Jill Raschiatore of both the Vikings and Bulldogs earning a top seed -- and home-court advantage -- to start the tournament. "I think it's very advantageous, not only because you'll be at home, but you'll also be playing a team that has lost recently, so it gives you a mental edge as well."
Fauquier (19-3) advanced to the AAA Northwest Region tournament in its first season in the Cedar Run District but will face a tough Colonial Forge team, winner of the Commonwealth, in the opening round. The Eagles (19-4) have won 18 of their past 19 games, including sweeping No. 9 Forest Park on Oct. 1. Fauquier would not face Forest Park or Cedar Run champion Osbourn Park (19-3), the only team to defeat the Falcons this year, until the championship round.
Three area teams also advanced to the AA Region II tournament -- Dulles District champion Heritage (18-4), making its first playoff appearance, Liberty (13-10) and Loudoun County (15-7). The Raiders will travel to face unbeaten Sherando (23-0) , the AA Northwestern District champion, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the quarterfinals, while the Pride will host the Eagles.
"Being such a new school, its great to finally be at this level," said Heritage junior outside hitter Alana Rudkovsky. "We've worked so hard for this. It's really thrilling to finally get there. But just like everyone else, our goal is to win states, so this is just the first step to that."
With Region II an eight-team bracket, the Pride would need two wins to secure a berth into the state tournament.
"Regardless of what happens from here on out, they've had an awesome season and achieved a lot," Pride Coach Carmel Keilty said. "But as an educator and a coach at this school, I think it would mean an awful lot for a team to move on to the state tournament.
"We've had a lot of individuals get there and find success, but it would be a real feather in the cap of this school for a team to reach that level."