There is very little about Loudoun Valley's volleyball team that resembles the squad that went 29-0 a year ago and won the Virginia AA championship.
Except for one very big thing.
All-Met Player of the Year Blair Brown, a powerful middle hitter who stands nearly 6 feet 5, is the only returning starter from the Vikings' championship team. But the Penn State-bound senior is more than enough to build a program around.
"The biggest luxury to having Blair is the confidence she brings to all of the other players," said Coach Laird Johnson, whose team remained undefeated with a 25-13, 25-13, 20-25, 25-10 victory over host Potomac Falls last night. "She supplies a confidence to the team that is unmistakable."
In what could be described as a somewhat lackadaisical performance in Sterling, Brown still led the Vikings (7-0) with a match-high 13 kills and four blocks, though most of her most powerful swings came when a Potomac Falls player passed the ball too close to the net -- and within her long reach.
"We have a tendency to pass or set too tight, and against teams with height, like Loudoun Valley, you can't get away with that," said Panthers Coach Linda Lachey-Helms, whose team fell to 4-3. "But I have to say, I like the way my kids went after her. They wanted to dig up her balls and challenge her at the net. There was no wincing or no being intimidated, and I liked seeing that."
Still, the outcome of the match was not in question, with the Vikings faltering in the third game only after replacing most of its starting lineup. Johnson said using his entire lineup is something he intends to do often this season as Loudoun Valley plays an independent regular season schedule. The Vikings will join the AAA National District in the playoffs, but will face teams mostly from the AA Dulles District -- its former league -- during the regular season.
"We can't even compete for a district crown, so we've dubbed this season the 'Running Down the Dream Tour,' " Johnson said.
The dream, of course, is following its Class AA crown -- its third in the past five seasons -- with a AAA title.
"We don't have a district to play in, and sometimes it seems like we don't even have a region to play in," Brown said. "But our goal is to go out there and win every game. They want to put up all these obstacles against us, but we're going to fight to take them down."