Ashburn, Va (October 1, 2015) – When these two talented teams last faced each other it was the 2014 5A North Region Championship. Briar Woods won in five sets and went on to win the 5A State Championship. The Stone Bridge Bulldogs traveled to the Falcon’s Lair Tuesday looking for a little payback and hoping to knock off the #1 ranked team in the state.
Before a large and lively crowd, the first set opened with a nice ace by Briar Woods junior setter/right side Morgan Courtney. The teams traded points as the set went on, as Stone Bridge’s senior middle Dejia Danhi had the first of her 16 total points with a smart tip (5-5), the Falcon’s senior middle Riley Garrison responded in kind (6-5 Briar), and Briar Woods senior outside hitter Lauren Twitty had a power serve for the first of her 18 total points. The Bulldog’s junior right side Gabbie Scudder served two aces and three points to break the tie and give Stone Bridge a 14-11 lead. Twitty had three kills to make it 17-17, but a jump serve ace by Stone Bridge senior outside hitter Ashlyn Dunlop, followed with two more aces by Scudder, sealed a 25-18 set one win for Stone Bridge.
Briar Woods, always more dangerous when behind, came out with senior right side Jasmine Ellison serving the first five points in set two, punctuated by Twitty with a huge kill that got the crowd revved up, giving the Falcons a 6-2 lead. Stone Bridge cut the lead to 10-8 Briar but another kill by Ellison made it 13-8 Briar and Stone Bridge called their first time out. Stone Bridge kept it close until at 19-18, but an ace by Briar Woods junior setter Maria Gonzalez, and two screaming kills and an ace by Twitty sealed the win for Briar Woods at 25-19.
The third set opened with a Stone Bridge serving barrage accompanied by three block kills and a solid kill by Bulldog junior outside hitter Alex Fuerst to give Stone Bridge a commanding 12-4 lead. By the time Briar Woods called their first timeout it was 18-8. Three excellent serves by Twitty, including an ace late in the game, was “too little, too late” as Stone Bridge rolled to a 25-15 victory.
At the start of set four Briar Woods was one game from elimination. Flashback to last year’s Regional Championship when the Falcons were down 2-0 to Stone Bridge, and to last year’s State Championship when they were down 2-0 to Princess Anne, and came back to win all six of the remaining sets in both matches. This season’s very similar Briar Woods team opened the fourth set with a monster back row kill by Twitty that once again got the home crowd on their feet. Dunlop responded with a power kill to make it 2-2. Twitty and Garrison started dominating with back row attacks, but Fuerst and Dunlop kept responding in kind as the score stayed close. Another block kill by Danhi gave the Bulldogs a 15-14 lead and Stone Bridge senior setter Angela Tender’s solid serving kept the Falcon offense off balance, allowing the Bulldogs to take an 18-16 lead. Two Bulldog hitting errors tied it up at 19-19. Ellison had a huge kill to fire up the crowd and give Briar a 20-19 lead. A kill by Danhi and two by Scudder made it 22-22 but an ace by Briar Wood’s Megan Courtney and overpass kill by Garrison squeaked out a 25-22 Briar Woods victory and forced a deciding fifth set, the first of the season for either team.
The final set opened with two Stone Bridge errors and Garrison winning a classic middle’s battle at the net over Danhi to give Briar a quick 3-1 lead. Garrison and Danhi traded kills to 5-3. An ace and a kill by Scudder along with corresponding errors made it a 7-7 set. Briar Woods senior leadership began to take over as Ellison ended a long rally with a kill and Garrison and Twitty combined on a nice dual block kill for an 11-9 Falcon lead. Dunlop showed her senior leadership with two crucial kills and a 12-11 Bulldog lead. At 14-13 with Briar at match point, a strange incident happened when Dunlop, serving for the Bulldogs, could not hear the ref’s whistle over the loud cheering in the stands. She began to walk back onto the court when she realized she was about to lose the serve for delay of game and lobbed a quick serve over the net. This whole incident confused the Falcons who were unable to react quickly enough to prevent a Bulldog ace and the set was tied at 14-14. Twitty and Scudder traded kills for a 15-15 tie. Another Scudder kill and ace gave Stone Bridge a 17-16 lead and a point away from the set and match victory. But the Falcons’ Ellison and Twitty squashed those hopes with back to back kills at 18-17, giving Briar Woods the final advantage. A Bulldog hitting error sealed yet another come-from-behind victory for the Falcons at 19-17.
After the game Briar Woods head coach Marsha Hermes reflected on the rivalry with Stone Bridge saying “They are right next door, they always put together a great team, and always make adjustments. It is a battle of adjustments.” Hermes talked about the senior leadership on the team saying she talked with the seniors before the game and they responded by remaining calm and confident even when down, and set the tone for the rest of the team.
When asked to reflect on Briar’s ability to consistently come back from behind to win, coach Hermes stated the key is disciplined play, stating “If you continue to play disciplined, you will come out on top”.
Briar Woods’ stat leaders for this power match included Twitty with 16 kills and 34 digs, Ellison with 3 aces, Garrison with 3 blocks, and M. Courtney with 23 set assists (M. Gonzalez with 22). For Stone Bridge, stat leaders included Scudder with 10 kills and 5 aces, Danhi with 12 blocks, Tender with 25 set assists, and junior libero Ryley Gill with 18 digs.
Briar Woods improved to 13-1 and plays Thursday 10/1 at Broad Run.
Stone Bridge falls to 10-2 and plays Thursday 10/1 hosting Tuscarora.
Story by Betsy Scudder
Special to Viva Loudoun