RICHMOND — Ryan Ackermann’s storied volleyball career at Stone Bridge had just ended in heartbreaking fashion on the familiar floor of VCU’s Siegel Center, but the glowing smile on her face gave nothing away.
For five sets, she and her teammates gave Atlee High all it could handle in Thursdsay’s Virginia AAA state semifinals.
The Bulldogs rallied from multiple deficits before falling, 25-23, 19-25, 12-25, 25-16, 13-15.
Yet even as the sting of a third consecutive final four loss lingered, Ackermann remained upbeat.
“Every year has been pretty good here for me,” said Ackermann, a senior and All-Met hitter who had 15 kills and 17 digs. “We had district titles, region titles and we got [to the semifinals] the last three years. A state title would have been nice, but we fought hard all the way.”
Initially, it appeared Ackermann and the Bulldogs (27-3) would draw one step closer to that coveted title. After building a 17-13 lead in the first set, Stone Bridge weathered a late rally before a kill and block by Shannon Williams secured the win.
The Raiders responded, riding the play of Karlie Suber (18 kills) in a second-set win and scoring the final 10 points to claim the third set. Stone Bridge evened the count in the fourth set, though, stretching an early 8-4 lead into a nine-point win.
“We started playing with a lot more fire and fight,” said junior Megan Bryn, who recorded 18 digs. “We had a renewed strength and tried to carry that into the fifth set.”
Both teams jockeyed for momentum in a final set that featured five ties and three lead changes. But with the score knotted at 13, Atlee’s Kayleigh Moody converted two consecutive kills to send the Raiders into Saturday’s final. There, they will face two-time defending champ Kellam, which swept Langley, 25-13, 25-11, 25-19 in Thursday’s other semifinal.
As was the case in its last six matches, Langley (26-6) dropped the first set, with Kellam’s Sydney Darden tallying four of her team-high 12 kills. After another loss in the second set, though, the Saxons demonstrated the resilience that brought them to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Several gutsy digs by senior libero Hoai-Nam Bui coupled with a handful of Kellam errors helped Langley build a 7-3 third-set lead. But Kellam soon caught fire behind the explosive kills of Chichi Osuchukwu to take the lead for good.
“We wanted to go down fighting,” Saxons Coach Sue Shifflett said. “Losing the first set, that’s what we do, and then we fight back. But you can’t get away with that against a team like Kellam.”