By Jason S Rufner
Special to Viva Loudoun
Richmond (Nov. 20, 2013) – It was easy when the Stone Bridge Bulldogs volleyball squad raced through the opening two sets of their Group 5A state semifinal match against Princess Anne High School, running up scores of 25-11 and 25-15 in dominant fashion.
It was too easy.
The Cavaliers from Virginia Beach showed mettle in the third set, accumulating a lead as great as five points before Stone Bridge surged late to win 26-24 and earn the sweep Wednesday inside Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
“I think part of it was Princess Anne was a young team and we had the experience advantage,” said Stone Bridge coach Jill Raschiatore, whose team boasts seven seniors out of 12 varsity players. “They slowed the ball down a bit and they lulled us into their tempo…. We need to control the tempo and keep swinging.”
The victory is the Bulldogs’ 15th straight and puts them into a state championship match for the first time since 2010 and the second time ever.
“The majority of the girls have been here at least once and for several of them this is their third trip,” Raschiatore said. “They knew what to expect when they walked in and that does help.”
Stone Bridge’s power was on full display early. Libby Haslett and Shannon Williams took turns raining spikes down upon the smaller Cavaliers, set up frequently by Cydney Gill and Amy Gottschling.
“We definitely had the height advantage and we were on point with our blocks,” said senior middle-hitter Megan Ellis.
The third set was another matter altogether. Princess Anne scrapped its way to a multiple-point lead and maintained it, keeping the ball away from the Bulldogs’ tall blockers.
Facing a 22-18 deficit, Stone Bridge ignited a run powered by kills from Ellis and Haslett to upend Princess Anne and complete the sweep.
Williams led with 17 kills, while Ashlyn Dunlop put down seven and Ellis had five. Haslett finished with 12 kills and three blocks.
Gill rang up 20 assists and Gottschling notched 18 helpers. Sarah Fairchild specialized in defense, bumping up 20 digs.
Stone Bridge (26-2) will aim for its first volleyball state title Saturday night at the Siegel Center.
“We’re so pumped to get to the state final,” Ellis said. “We really believe that we can do this this year.”
Their opposition will be the winner of the Thursday 11 a.m. other Group 5A semifinal match, South champion Atlee or Ashburn rival Broad Run, whom the Bulldogs have bested four times this season, most recently in the regional final.