RICHMOND — After the final serve left Loudoun County junior Kira Merl's hand, deflecting off a Grafton player and falling to the floor, the Raiders ran to the end line with their hands in the air, embracing as the reality of another Virginia Class 4 state championship sunk in.
Loudoun County won Saturday at Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in straight sets, 25-15, 25-21, 25-15, to claim its sixth consecutive state title and 10th in 11 years. While the gaudy numbers might suggest the journey to a state title has become easier with time, the Raiders were quick to dispel that notion.
"There was a ton of work put into it, a ton of behind-the-scenes stuff," said senior Andersen Vaughan, who notched a team-high 23 assists. "Knowing that our hard work paid off again this year is just really great."
"Every year, it's a long, hard roll from August to November, and this year proved no different," Coach Sherrilyn Hanna said. "We suffered two or three losses that were tough along the way, and it just served to embolden our players and our team and really fight."
The toughest loss to swallow came in the region championship game less than two weeks ago against Millbrook. It marked the end of an 11-year streak of region titles.
"We knew after that we had to come back and win," said senior Jensen Robberstad, who finished with 10 kills and two blocks. "It was fuel for the next game."
After a pair of serving errors at the beginning of the first set, the Raiders (28-3) settled in, with Robberstad setting the tone with seven kills in the frame.
"You could definitely tell they were experienced in this atmosphere," Grafton Coach Karissa Cumberbatch said. "Those girls know what it's like to be in this building."
After taking a hard-fought second set, Loudoun County put Grafton (23-6) away in the third, benefiting from a six-point serve streak from Vaughan.
With an injury to junior outside hitter Megan Bukala late in the season, junior Ashley Rubino was tasked with switching positions, playing outside. She filled the role well, finishing with a team-high 11 kills, while sophomore Chandler Vaughan led the team with seven aces.
"That was really stressful because I hadn't played all year, so I had to step up," Rubino said. "My team really helped me through it, and I couldn't have done it without them."