In February, multiple Freedom-South Riding volleyball players were focused on this weekend. They knew that if their team reached the state championship game, they would have a difficult decision to make.

Some of Freedom’s players are on club teams participating in national championships this weekend in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament doubles as a recruiting showcase, and a conflict arose this year after the coronavirus pandemic moved Virginia’s high school volleyball season out of the fall.

But on Tuesday, when Freedom secured a spot in its first state championship game, its players decided trying to secure a Virginia Class 5 title was more meaningful. Freedom lost to visiting Hickory in straight sets, 25-13, 25-21, 25-20, on Saturday afternoon, but its players said they’re content with their decisions.

“They’ve been my family for four years. I know I wouldn’t feel right not coming to this game,” outside hitter Haley Adams said. “I knew in my heart this is where I am. State finals has always been a dream of mine.”

Entering the season, Freedom Coach Will Davis believed his team had more talent than most of its Northern Virginia counterparts. But after the Eagles (12-5) lost back-to-back matches to close the regular season, Davis created a Google Doc, on which he, his assistant coaches and players wrote notes about their upcoming opponents after watching video. Thanks to that collaboration, Freedom entered matches better prepared and had dropped just one set in four playoff games entering Saturday.

Three weeks ago, Davis figured his players would choose the national tournament over the state championship game. While many high school players only participated for their club teams this spring, Davis made compromises with his players so they could compete in both.

As Freedom inched closer to the final, Davis noticed the time and energy his players were dedicating to winning a title. When his players needed to decide, Davis recalls them saying, “Of course we’re going to be at the state final.”

“I’m having a hard time imagining how difficult of a decision that was for them, to give up that important of a thing in their life to be here for the rest of their team,” Davis said. “They deserve a lot of credit for making that decision at such a young age.”

Against Hickory (14-0) of Chesapeake, Freedom came from behind to tie the second set at 17, but that was the closest the Eagles came to taking a set.

“It’s always going to be a memory,” setter MiLinh Nguyen said. “If you told me when I was younger, ‘You’re going to be the first team at Freedom to make the state championships,’ I would’ve never believed it. It’s honestly so out of my imagination that we’re here.”

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