Richmond, VA (November 21, 2016) – Under the bright lights at the VCU Siegel Center, the volleyball matches are illuminated with an energy and intensity that is at first a bit overwhelming.
But Coach Sherrilyn Hanna and her Loudoun County team have been there before, twice for Hanna to be exact, and she brought with her a team whose alumni have passed on a legacy of winning under those lights. This year, their mantra was “Raiders so fine, time for nine.”
Following a heartfelt sportsmanship presentation by senior co-captain Hannah Aycock, the Raiders opened up their 5th straight state championship match against Jamestown with a few too many unforced errors. They looked uncharacteristically nervous. Aycock herself blasted two attacks into the side antenna; senior co-captain standout Hailey Rubino hit two balls outside the court boundaries, and junior setter Andersen Vaughan, who is known for her consistently solid but silent sets, was called on a ball handling error. The Raiders were forced to call the first time out as they trailed 7-12.
They returned to the court looking more determined, whittling away the point deficit to within two after a well-placed tip to Jamestown’s open front left corner by senior middle Sela Carrington. But the Eagles were more determined and made fewer mistakes. When a blast from Jamestown senior middle Ellie Popelka made its way through the Raider block and found the floor, Coach Hanna called another time out at 16-22. Jamestown’s standout senior hitter Maria Esch, who had been on fire the entire set, closed out the set with the final kill. The Raiders had finished that set only scoring one more point, losing 17-25.
But the Raiders were not undone. Hailey Rubino came out in the 2nd set with even more firepower than her hitting counterpart across the net, scoring a number of the first 11 points with her well-trained right arm swing and her top spin jump serve ace. Sophomore hitter Ashley Rubino provided a solid point immediately after her sister’s to force the Eagle’s first time out of the set at 13-7. The point span seemed to give the Raiders a sense of comfort, and too much so. After several net and serving errors, along with yet another spike into the outside antenna, the Raiders found the Eagles swooping down and preparing to snatch them up. Coach Hanna called a time out at 18-17, which proved to be timely, rattling the Jamestown server who sent the ball directly into the net.
The Eagles were never able to take the lead despite coming close. The Raiders closed out set two with a gorgeous cross-court front corner tip by Aycock, who followed up that point with a solid block kill alongside Carrington against Jamestown’s Popelka. The Raiders switched sides with a 25-20 win under their belts and smiles on their faces. That was all the reenergizing they needed.
Jamestown was not willing to let the 3rd set to be taken away from them easily though. Esch and Popelka led the way to start this crucial set, scoring the first three points. Ashley Rubino tried to stop the bleeding early with a decisive down the line kill on the right side giving the Raiders their first point. Jamestown answered with point after point and Loudoun County again made more errors than they should have, putting them in an early five-point deficit. A time out by the Raiders did not seem to change the momentum, despite an amazing dig by senior libero Rachel Cullen against Jamestown’s Esch, which allowed a big kill by H. Rubino. Several minutes later they found themselves with an even greater point deficit at 8-16.
The Raiders did not get frazzled. Making fewer errors and relying on their senior outside hitters to get the job done, the Raiders played each point one at a time to make Jamestown coach Tom Stephenson nervous enough to call a time out regardless of their 18-14 lead. He was right to be anxious. After the break the Raiders answered with four points to Jamestown’s one. With the tenacity volleyball fans have come to expect from Loudoun County, they continued to battle. Three consecutive stop blocks by Robberstad against Jamestown’s Esch seemed to take her out of her zone, allowing the score to tie at 21s. Robberstad and H. Rubino then effectively shut her down with a giant block kill, giving the Raiders their first lead at 22-21. With another gentle touch tip to Jamestown’s big black hole in the front left corner, Carrington brought the Raiders to set point. H. Rubino followed up with a cross court kill, giving the Raiders their second set win at 25-22.
Loudoun County started the fourth set poised to win yet another state championship. The score was tied several times early on with back and forth kills and errors by both teams. The set was characterized by VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun as a back and forth battle between the teams’ two big outside hitters Esch and H. Rubino. But Loudoun County junior defensive specialist Rebecca Frey also contributed with two key digs that seemed to take the wind out of Jamestown’s sails. Ahead 12-9, the Raiders kept the pressure on.
Fast forward a few points to 15-13 when H. Rubino runs outside the court past the net line to pursue a shanked pass, which ultimately saved the play and allowed her team to score a kill. She then rotated back to the service line and fired off an ace serve to give the Raiders a four-point lead at 17-13. After Aycock slammed a giant kill to make the score 18-14, the Raiders had two untimely late-in-the-game service errors in a row. But Aycock kept her cool and careened one hit off the Eagles’ block followed by a third kill to give her team a five point lead at 21-16.
Jamestown struggled from that point on, made worse when Esch fell to the floor at the net, fortunately uninjured, but having snapped the strap of her ankle brace. The Eagles’ defensive specialist made a valiant save in the back court, followed by a Popelka slam from the middle to place a kill on the Raiders’ side of the court in an effort to keep their team alive. But with a six point lead and only two points between them and the match win, the Raiders forged ahead. Hailey Rubino then slammed her palm print onto the volleyball to score a match point kill, 24-17. Moments later, an aberrant long pass from Jamestown that crossed the back line was left untouched by the victorious Raiders. The deal was sealed. Loudoun County erupted in cheers. Number nine…very fine.
Raiders States for the State Championship:
Hailey Rubino (15 kills, 8 service points, 2 aces, 1 assist, 2 block assists, 12 digs)
Sela Carrington (9 kills, 7 service points, 2 aces, 3 block assists, 2 digs)
Hannah Aycock (8 kills, 3 block assists, 2 digs)
Jensen Robberstad (6 kills, 7 block assists, 2 digs)
Ashley Rubino (4 kills, 2 solo blocks, 4 block assists, 2 digs)
Rachael Cullen (17 digs, 6 service points)
Rebecca Frey (11 digs, 6 service points)
Josi Williams (5 digs, 4 service points, 1 ace)
Andersen Vaughan (41 assists, 8 service points, 2 aces, 11 digs, 1 kill)