For almost 50 years, Loudoun Valley High School had Purcellville all to itself. The Vikings’ rivals on the sports fields were schools from other towns, not from a next-door neighborhood. Everything was green and gold.
Five years ago, Woodgrove High School opened for business in Purcellville, flying a shade of Valley’s green as they did. Suddenly Purcellville was divided, at least for the good-natured camaraderie of high school athletics. Every team — like the town — was split apart; some going to the sparkling new place, some staying in the venerable old building.
Since then, Western Loudoun has had two sets of teams, competing at two different levels, who could bring sporting glory home to P-ville.
As a high schooler, Steve Douglas starred for Loudoun Valley’s successful teams of the late 1980s. A quarter-century hence, he’s the program-launching head coach for Woodgrove.
The veteran coach, who led Dominion’s boys to state-level prominence before moving to Woodgrove to open the Wolverines’ program, has a unique perspective on the Purcellville dynamic.
“Anytime you have two schools just two miles apart, there’s going to be some tension. People will go one way or the other,” he said. “That’s made for a fierce rivalry between the two.”
The fierceness is evident when the Vikings and Wolverines meet each other directly. They’ve been going head-to-head for half a decade now, but the luster hasn’t worn off yet — at least, not judging by the fullness of the stands and the rabid chanting from the student sections.
Walk around during a Valley / Woodgrove basketball game. Afloat in a sea of two shades of green, you can’t tell by the fans’ clothing which school you’re in. Listen to the reaction when the ball swishes through the net, for either team. The volume of the cheers is virtually the same.
“A lot of them played AAU together or just grew up together, so it’s almost like playing against your sister,” said Kenyamo McFarlane, head coach of Valley’s girls’ team who last spring coached Wolverines and Vikings together on the Loudoun Freedom AAU team.
“The whole town comes out, and the girls definitely feel that,” he added. “I think it’s great for the town, to get those bragging rights.”
Woodgrove girls’ head coach Kevin Copley said that his meetings with the Vikings put two hard-playing teams on display.
“Like we tell them in the locker room, it may not mean anything in the standings, but it means something right here,” he said, tapping his heart.
Chad Dawson, Valley’s head boys’ hoops coach since seven years before Woodgrove opened, said that sometimes his players are more familiar with their Wolverine counterparts than his staff is.
“They’re telling us more than we know about [Woodgrove], they just all know each other,” Dawson said. “It’s definitely a town event. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Settling the scores
Such was the scene Jan. 15 at Woodgrove, when Valley visited the new place for a girls / boys hoops doubleheader. Despite the fact that Woodgrove is in the 4A North region and Loudoun Valley comes from 3A East, the desire to beat the team from a few blocks away was obvious.
Both contests were typically hard-fought and remained close on the scoreboard till the end. The Vikings managed to survive both and pull off the sweep, winning the girls’ contest 45-37 before taking the boys’ tilt 66-55.
In the girls’ game, Valley (12-2) mounted a six-point halftime lead and held it through the second half, not letting the Wolverines (7-5) get any closer than four. A pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers by Lindsey Sweet and four free throws in the final minute by Kirsten Graves salted the result away for the Vikings.
Graves, a four-year varsity player, said that contests between the rivals aren’t quite as intense as they were a few years ago, but there’s still plenty of intensity left over.
“Before the game, you think it’s not really that big of a deal,” she said. “But once you get into it, it’s like, wait, this actually is a really big deal!”
The rivals’ battle in the boys game was exactly that. Amid a flurry of hard fouls and lead changes, Woodgrove (7-5) held a three-point halftime edge which was soon erased. The second-half tempo picked up as each team tried to outrace the other down the court. The Vikings (6-8) clung to a two-point advantage with under two minutes to play when Nick Ball stole an in-bounds pass and laid it in. Thirty seconds later, Ball repeated that same steal-and-layup trick to put the score out of reach.
The outcome continues a prolonged streak of wins for Valley’s boys against Woodgrove — something which doesn’t sit well with Wolverine senior guard Matt Gilson.
“Everyone’s a little more focused. You always want to beat your rival,” said Gilson, who’s known all of Valley’s players since they were in youth leagues. “Growing up, you’re playing with them and having a really good time, but now, you want to work as hard as possible to beat them.”
Two closely contested basketball games, entertaining a large, spirited crowd on a Friday night in Western Loudoun. Woodgrove athletic director Rusty Lowery believes that, five years into their relationship, the Purcellville pairing has found its stride.
“It’s become much more of a friendship thing,” he said, “and over time it’ll only get better and better.”
Playing for a cure
The well-attended crosstown showdown Jan. 15 provided an opportunity for Woodgrove to host its second annual “Play For a Cure” event to raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer.
The main hallway leading to the gymnasium was lined on both sides with pink-themed displays, including ribbons, t-shirts, bunting and about 30 donated prize baskets being raffled.
“It’s a total school effort,” said Copley, a pink ribbon affixed to his breast pocket. His players spearheaded the event, though he said several other Woodgrove clubs — including Douglas’ boys team — made significant contributions.
“Beat Valley AND Cancer!” read a sign with oversized lettering.
Despite the ribbing, the effort demonstrated the neighborhood unity of the two schools, portrayed in the event’s logo: Wrapped inside a pink ribbon, the L-O at the start of “Loudoun Valley” and the V-E at the end of “Woodgrove” were configured to spell out L-O-V-E.
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