Stone Bridge's volleyball team was knocked out of the Virginia AAA tournament in the quarterfinals at Douglas Freeman High in Richmond on Tuesday night, but the Bulldogs went down proud and swinging.
In a performance that far surpassed their showing in Saturday's Northern Region championship loss to No. 2 Westfield, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs battled Freeman point-for-point in all four games before falling, 25-18, 23-25, 26-24, 25-23. Stone Bridge (22-4) rallied from deficits of four and five points, respectively, in the final two games to tie the score at 22 before faltering.
"You did what you had to do to get here, and you went out playing our kind of volleyball," Stone Bridge Coach Jill Raschiatore told her team. "I'm very proud of you for that."
All-Met middle hitter Samantha Ingersoll, the only senior on the Bulldogs' roster, paced Stone Bridge with a team-high 20 kills to go along with 13 digs, 7 service points and 3 blocks -- a performance that enhances her already-distinguished high school volleyball career. Ingersoll, a second-team All-Met shortstop who has committed to play softball next season for the University of North Carolina, leaves the Bulldogs' volleyball program holding nearly every school record that does not include setting.
"Ah, see Coach, I told you you should have let me set one game this year," Ingersoll teased Raschiatore.
In part, it is that comfortable relationship between player and coach that helped to define Stone Bridge's success in a year when otherwise youth and inexperience might have prevailed.
"I couldn't ask for more from Sam tonight or all season," Raschiatore said. "Being the only senior, she's continued to surprise me and exceed the expectations I had for her and for this team. She so makes the people around her better."
Tuesday night, Ingersoll's fiery personality and ultra-competitive spirit certainly rubbed off on her teammates, who never backed down in the face of tough play by the Rebels or steady jeering from their home crowd. Stone Bridge got key serves from juniors Brooke Reichel and Emily Hindman (30 assists, 24 digs) and timely -- and often fierce -- hits by Marianne Bell, Catherine Christensen, Natalie Driskill, Hindman and Elizabeth Leonhardt that gave the Bulldogs contingent plenty to cheer.
"I'm glad we came this far, because we all worked our butts off every day in practice to get here, and we deserved this," Ingersoll said. "We deserved to be here. But I'm also glad we made it here because if [Saturday's loss to Westfield] had been our last game, I would have been so disappointed because I know we're better than that. At least tonight we went down swinging."
Stone Bridge set a high standard in its first season in Class AAA, winning the Liberty District in its first year in the district and finishing as the Northern Region runner-up to Westfield. With nine players returning, the future remains bright.
"Coming into this season I thought our biggest weakness wasn't going to be our youth but our diversity," Raschiatore said. "But in the end, that ended up being our strength. Every one of the 10 girls accepted their role and ran with it. I couldn't have asked for more."