By Jason S Rufner
Special to Viva Loudoun
Richmond (Nov. 25, 2013) – It couldn’t have been much closer when the Stone Bridge High School girls volleyball team battled Atlee for the VHSL 5A state championship Saturday at VCU’s Siegel Center.
But in the end, it was just barely not enough for Raiders from Mechanicsville to capture their first ever volleyball crown.
In a fierce contest fraught with changes of both momentum and emotion, Stone Bridge (26-3) was edged out by Atlee (32-2) in the maximum five sets: 17-25, 25-20, 11-25, 25-23, 15-13. It was the second straight year that Atlee ended the Bulldogs state title dreams as the Raiders beat Stone Bridge in five sets in the 2012 state semifinals.
“When we executed, we played very, very well, we were in control. When things were going well, we were passing well, we were all in rhythm and we had a lot of options,” said Stone Bridge coach Jill Raschiatore. “We just didn’t execute the entire match.”
Totalled up, the Bulldogs actually scored more points (106) than the Raiders (93) in the championship showdown. But that is little consolation to the seven seniors on the Stone Bridge roster.
“I feel a lot of us were afraid to lose,” Libby Haslett said to slight nods of agreement from teammates, juniors Shannon Williams and Amy Gottschling. “We didn’t play to win; we played not to lose, and it just got to us.”
Stone Bridge opened the first set on a 13-1 run, then endured an 8-1 run of Atlee’s before finishing out the opener with another prolonged run to garner the eight-point win.
The Bulldogs’ characteristically strong play at the net continued to display itself into the second stanza, as outside hitter Haslett and middle hitter senior Megan Ellis found hitting lanes to propel Stone Bridge to another early lead.
The two sides again traded runs before Atlee’s own sizable net presence – with four players at 5-foot-10 or taller – came to the fore and Atlee nipped out a win.
The third set began much as the first two did. Stone Bridge surged out to a 7-1 lead owing largely to sernior Cydney Gill’s adept setting to Haslett for kills. This time there was no let-up as the Bulldogs went on a 14-2 run to close out the set and take a 2-1 lead.
But the Raiders, their backs against the wall as they chased their own first-ever title, responded. Set number four was the definition of nip-and-tuck until Atlee produced a late 9-1 run and held on for the equalizing two-point win.
The Siegel Center reverberated with noise as blue-clad fans of both squads roared at each development in the championship-deciding fifth set. The sides were tied again and again before a 3-0 Atlee run made it 12-9. At 14-11, Stone Bridge fought back with two straight points to make an already excruciatingly close match even closer.
But Atlee’s athletic six-foot sophomore Molly Jarvis got up for a massive slam into the middle of the Bulldogs defense, and the girls from Ashburn were denied the title they’d fought to achieve.
“They’re a very tough team, they were very scrappy,” Raschiatore said. “Kudos to them.”
Haslett led both teams with 24 kills, adding 19 digs in her final high school match before becoming a VCU Ram. Middle hitter Williams put down 14 kills and bumped up 27 digs, second to senior Sarah Fairchild’s 39 digs.
Gill helped defensively with 18 digs while contributing offensively with 31 assists. Gottschling had an all-around match with 15 assists, six digs, three blocks and three kills.
Ellis and sophomore Ashlyn Dunlop had six kills apiece. Senior Megan Bryn, committed to play for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next year, was among Stone Bridge’s most effective servers, smacking five aces.
“These girls have been through a lot and I think they’ve learned a lot this season,” Raschiatore said. “All year I’ve seen growth in them. They’ve done a really nice job of doing whatever I’ve asked of them, and they’ve done it well.”