There were plenty of times during last night's Virginia AAA Northern Region championship volleyball match -- and during the season -- when things looked bleak for Chantilly.
But as they had done throughout the postseason, the Chargers persevered, pulling out a 25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 15-25, 16-14 victory over Centreville before a raucous crowd in Clifton.
Chantilly was fourth in the Concorde District in the regular season, but embarked on a remarkable playoff journey, starting with a win over Centreville in the district semifinals.
The Chargers (16-7) went on to win the district title and then four more matches in a row to capture their first region crown.
"It doesn't seem real right now," Coach Charles Ezigbo said. "I'm not sure any of us thought we'd get this far but we did it. These girls never stopped playing hard."
Senior Shannon Gallagher had 13 kills last night and senior Natalie English had 18 assists for Chantilly. Sophomore Ryann Lowery had 17 kills and senior Jenny Brugger added 14 for Centreville.
Both teams already qualified for the state playoffs. Chantilly will host the Eastern Region runner-up on Tuesday, and Centreville will go on the road to play the Eastern Region champion.
The Chargers had all the momentum after winning the first two games, but then had to hold off a furious rally by their rivals, who pulled out a thrilling third game.
After Centreville (16-5) cruised to a fourth-game win, the tide shifted several times in the fifth game.
A missed hit by Centreville tied the game at 14. Chantilly senior Claire Blevins had a kill at the net on the next point, and Gallagher's next serve was misplayed by Centreville to clinch the Chantilly victory.
After sweeping two matches from Stonewall Jackson during the regular season, Osbourn Park senior Christie Kirby and her teammates were disappointed to lose the Cedar Run District volleyball title match to the Raiders, who earned a championship banner for their efforts.
So when Stonewall won the first two games last night at Osbourn Park in the Virginia AAA Northwestern Region final, the Yellow Jackets could not bear the thought of their friendly Manassas rivals hanging yet another cut of coveted cloth.
That inspiration, a home court on which they have not lost all season, and a revamped strategy lifted Osbourn Park to a 23-25, 19-25, 25-13, 25-18, 15-9 victory for the first region volleyball championship in school history.
"We did not want them having two banners -- no way," Kirby said. "They were not getting away with that."
The Yellow Jackets (21-4) will host Central Region runner-up Douglas Freeman in a state quarterfinal Tuesday. Stonewall (18-6) will travel to Central Region champion Mills Godwin.
Osbourn Park broke open a 9-9 tie to easily win the third game and rattled off eight consecutive points midway through the fourth.
The Yellow Jackets never trailed in the decisive game, which ended on the last of 16 kills by senior Kaitlin Crutchley, who also had four aces.
Osbourn Park Coach Kate Southcott thought her players were fretting too much in the first two games about Stonewall senior middle Monique Barbour, who had hurt them in the district title match. When the Yellow Jackets stopped letting the 5-foot-11 Barbour dictate their play, they performed much better.
"After game two, I said you have to swing away until you get blocked, and then worry about her," Southcott said. "We decided to go after them."
-- Sean P. Flynn
and Preston Williams