RICHMOND — Just when it seemed like Loudoun County had been deflated, that a return to glory would be stopped painfully short for a second straight season at VCU’s Siegel Center, the Raiders came alive.
What sparked Loudoun County’s late rally against Hidden Valley (29-5) during a thrilling 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-11 victory in Saturday’s Virginia AA volleyball championship?
Taylor Huewe thinks it may have been the stirring speech by assistant coach Jarod Brown, who often uses quotes from the film “Remember the Titans” to push the team to success. Junior libero Kelsey Slack noticed a shift when the Raiders ceased bickering and began believing in each other and offering encouraging words. As for Maggie Phillips, the smiling contest during a fourth-set timeout seemed to do the trick.
Ultimately, it’s an answer the Raiders — winners of 18 straight matches and five state titles in the past six years — may never discover.
“I’ve never seen a team want it more,” said Slack, who finished with 19 digs. “This year was different than last year because you could tell that every person wanted it. It means the world to us because a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it but we proved them wrong.”
Early on, the Raiders (28-1) were dominant, jumping out to a six-point advantage before holding on for a first-set win. The Raiders would build another 6-4 lead in the second set, but the Titans would storm back, turning three aces from Sarah Gray into a 7-0 run and a 25-20 win.
After putting together another run to take the third set, the Titans built a 16-10 lead in the fourth and appeared on the verge of a state title.
The Raiders refused to buckle, though. Following a timeout, Huewe and Phillips teamed with Megan Fox (53 assists) to record six kills and rally back in forcing a fifth set.
“In the second and third game, we kind of let them dictate and we got down on ourselves when we messed up,” Phillips said. “After that, though, we started to think back to the emotional state that helped us win the first game and we started feeding off each other more.”
Another Phillips kill pushed Loudoun County’s lead to 4-0 in the decisive set, only to see the Titans pull together and turn the deficit into a 6-5 advantage. From there, the teams battled for control until two Huewe kills gave the Raiders a 11-8 lead and enough room to hold on for the win.