Richmond, Va (November 22, 2014) – The Briar Woods girls’ volleyball team walked into the Siegel Center at VCU for
their first-ever trip to the VHSL State Championship finals match, looking around with awe and wonder likes kids at Walt Disney World. They had no idea the battle they were about to endure.
The Princess Anne Cavaliers from Virginia Beach, who had eliminated Briar Wood’s cross town rivals Stone Bridge from the State run earlier in the week, were also entering the VCU venue for the first time. When the lights were dimmed and a spotlight show created a NBA-like atmosphere during the team introductions, the young Cavalier team consisting of only three seniors didn’t know how to respond. With no one standing taller than 5’10”, the Princess Anne team appeared even smaller in the expansive arena.
But they came out like gang busters when the lights were back on. Taking the Falcons by surprise with their amazing defensive moves honed on the beach, Princess Anne won the first two sets 25-18 and 25-22. Led by senior outside hitter Alex Toben, a Virginia Tech commit, and Liberty University-bound libero Margaret Latchford, the Cavaliers put the Falcons in a familiar position of having to fight back to stay in the match.
The third set saw the Falcons adjusting their game to utilize their height offensively, hitting over the Cavaliers blocks, and defensively, shutting down Princess Anne’s hitters with their solid blocking skills. Briar Wood’s junior power outside hitter Lauren Twitty, whose spike attempts in the first two sets had been not finding the floor as they normally would, followed the example of her opponents and started tipping to their open holes. Following a screaming middle kill by the Falcons’ middle hitter Riley Garrison and a big hit down the line by senior outside hitter Sydney Daniel, the Cavalier’s heach coach Craig Dooren called his first time out of the set trailing 6-9. His team started making errors that were not seen in the first two sets, and the score deficit grew bigger, with Briar Woods leading by as much as six points in the middle of the set. Princess Anne struggled to keep their composure, but again led by Toben tooling off the Briar Woods block, and Latchford sweeping the floor of any potential Briar Woods kills, they closed the gap to 10-12. Briar Woods responded with great defense by Twitty in the back row against Toben’s hard-driven hits, smart setting and a service ace by senior setter Taylor van der Biezen, and two consecutive blasts in the front row that the Cavaliers could not stop. The Falcons won the crucial set decisively at 25-15.
With the momentum on their side of the court, Briar Woods came out strong again in the fourth set and forced an early time out at 6-3 after a long tip to the Cavalier deep corner by junior right side hitter Jasmine Ellison. Using their beach moves and playing smart against their taller opponents, the Cavaliers closed the gap and forced Briar Woods’ head coach Marsha Hermes to call her first time out of the set at 13-12. A kill off the Briar Woods block by sophomore Ashley Burgess gained the tie score for the Cavaliers. Several big block kills by Briar Woods against Toben began wearing her down, giving the Falcons some breathing room until the Cavaliers tied things up again at 19-19. After another Falcons time out, Ellison came up to serve and stayed there for four consecutive rallies highlighted by amazing digs on both sides of the court but more errors committed by Princess Anne. A particularly long and intense rally ended with a hit by the Cavaliers’ Addison Blackwell, which the Virginia Beach fans were sure was touched by a Falcon; but the referee deemed it long and the point went to Briar Woods at 23-19. Ellison then fired off an ace bringing the score to set point. A definite hitting error again by Blackwell gave the win to Briar Woods, keeping the Falcons alive and setting up the decisive fifth set.
A former George Mason volleyball setter and college recruiter, watching the match at home, said later of the fifth set that it was the most amazing deciding set she had seen in a long time. With respective fans shouting “P-A!” and “B-Woods” in a competition in the stands, the set got underway with the Falcons focusing on shutting down the Cavalier’s Toben. She was blocked twice in a row early on, then kept from finding the floor with several spectacular digs by senior libero Josie Lucernoni. Falcons’ hitters Daniel and Ellison learned how to hit off the Cavalier blocks to gain points for Briar Woods. Setter van der Biezen found Ellison’s back row attack from the right side to be quite effective, connecting with her there several times and also attacking from the back row once herself. With Briar Woods up 10-6, it looked like things were over for Princess Anne. An amazing late rally by the Cavaliers, showcasing unbelievable moves by libero Latchford and three aces in a row by sophomore Burgess allowed Princess Anne to creep back into the game.
At 13-12, an incredible marathon rally with unbelievable play after play including at least 20 touches, two amazing saves off the sidelines, and multiple jousts at the net ended with a kill by Toben to the open left back spot on Briar Woods side of the court. The Princess Ann crowd’s enthusiasm exploded as the score was tied at 13 points apiece. Following two more incredible saves by Latchford, the Cavaliers gained match point at 14-13. Lauren Twitty, however, was undeterred. She fired off a back row attack to tie the score at 14-14. After a solid save by Lucernoni off a weakened hit by Toben, van der Biezen fed the ball back to Twitty who brought the heat against the Cavalier block. It was touched and went out, giving Briar Woods the advantage. The final point of the match ended with Twitty tooling off their block, landing out of bounds back on the Falcons side of the court. Twitty watched the ball drop between her feet and the line, then slowly looked up with wide eyes and a gradual smile as her brain registered what had just happened. The Briar Woods Falcons had won the 5A State Championship match, 16-14 in the 5th set. Her teammates ran to her as she crumpled to the floor and celebrated the win.
Coach Marsha Hermes was later asked why her team seemed to like going down 0-2 in sets before a win. She smiled through teary eyes. “We just want to give you your money’s worth in volleyball,.“ And that they did.