At first there was more shock than sadness resonating from Loudoun Valley's volleyball players as they sat huddled together in a back hallway at Centreville High Thursday night assessing their three-game loss to Westfield in a Virginia AAA Northern Region semifinal. Last year's state champion and this season's top-ranked team losing at all, even to No. 2 Westfield, will do that.
The 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 defeat snapped the Vikings' 55-match win streak, which stretched back to the start of the 2004 season.
"It really doesn't feel like anything has happened yet," said All-Met middle hitter Blair Brown, who was named the Northern Region's Player of the Year between the semifinal matches hosted by Centreville. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't think it will hit me until I walk back into our gym."
It was then, at the thought of returning to Loudoun Valley and never playing another volleyball match in her home gym, that the tears began. Brown, one of the most highly acclaimed high school volleyball players in state history, has a career at Penn State in her future. But all that was on her mind Thursday night was the past.
"This team has been everything to me," she said. "It's taught me dedication and loyalty and pride. Everything that you need to build your life around."
Brown finishes her stellar career with 1,463 kills. In her final two seasons, she led Loudoun Valley to a 55-1 mark and a Virginia AA championship in 2004. In those two seasons combined, she had 883 kills, 175 solo blocks, 112 block assists, 95 aces and 277 digs.
"You can look at the number of records she's going to end up setting and at all of the things she's accomplished in her career at Loudoun Valley, including this 26-1 record her senior year, but there is so much more," Coach Laird Johnson said. "Through her experiences she's taught us a lot about volleyball and what we need to do at Loudoun Valley to keep this tradition going. And she's brought us such confidence these last three years it's incredible. She is just phenomenal."
Brown first drew national attention in the summer of 2004 as one of 11 players on the U.S. youth national team that defeated teams from Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Mexico to earn a gold medal in the qualifier for this year's world championships. Then, after Loudoun Valley's 29-0 run in 2004, she was the named the All-Met Player of the Year and one of 10 finalists for the national junior player of the year award given by PrepVolleyball.com, which bases its selections on statistics and players' contributions to their high school programs.
This season Brown ranked seventh on the Web site's list of "Senior Aces" and paired with five new starters to help run the Vikings' win streak up to 55 matches before the team fell to Westfield. The loss ended Loudoun Valley's season one round shy of earning an automatic berth back to the state tournament.
"Whenever it ends the way it ended tonight, it hurts," Johnson told Brown and her teammates as they sat stunned in that hallway. "And it should hurt. Because that means it really meant something. But it does not take away all that you have accomplished. The success you've enjoyed these past two years will be something that at a reunion 10 years from now you'll still be talking about."