RICHMOND — As the Atlee volleyball team collapsed in a celebratory heap Saturday night, Stone Bridge senior Libby Haslett could do nothing but slap the net.
The third-ranked Bulldogs were within two points of their first state volleyball title. They were two points away from avenging their loss to Atlee in the Virginia state semifinal last season. But in their fourth straight trip to VCU’s Siegel Center, the Bulldogs once again fell just short.
After cruising in the third set, Stone Bridge dropped the fourth and fifth by two points each and fell in the Virginia 5A championship match, 25-17, 20-25, 25-11, 23-25, 13-15.
“We just didn’t execute the entire match,” Coach Jill Raschiatore said. “We executed at moments. When we executed, I felt like we were in control.”
Haslett finished with a match-high 24 kills but was suddenly forced to confront a feeling of deja vu. Atlee also knocked out Stone Bridge last season in the AAA state semifinal. That match also went five sets and also ended with a 15-13 score in the last one.
“We came out strong. We’ve been here before,” Haslett said. “We were used to the gym, we were used to the atmosphere. I think we just kind of let it get to us whenever they started fighting back.”
The Bulldogs (26-3) went on a number of long runs, including a 13-1 run to begin the match. But after each long run, Atlee (32-2) battled back.
Haslett said she was timid, occasionally trying to tip the ball over the block instead of hitting through it. She barely ever tips in a usual match.
“I feel like a lot of us were afraid to lose,” Haslett said. “We didn’t play to win. We were playing to not lose, and it just got to us.”
Saturday marked Haslett’s last high school match, though she will continue to play at Siegel Center next year after committing to VCU earlier this week. Stone Bridge will also lose six other seniors, including libero Sarah Fairchild (32 digs) and setter Cydney Gill (29 assists).
Raschiatore said they are leaving the program in good hands.
“It takes a while to get over today and realize what a great season they had,” she said. “When you’re here to win it, it stings. It stings bad.”