Richmond (November 25, 2015) — Just one week after the VHSL 5A North region title game – where Potomac Falls High School defeated Stone Bridge High School – the Panthers and the Bulldogs met once more as they travelled south to Richmond on November 21 to play for the VHSL 5A state title. This time – after a heartbreak in the region championship – Stone Bridge defeated Potomac Falls, 3-2, (25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 19-25, 15-3) to claim their spot atop the VHSL 5A volleyball throne – the first state championship in Bulldog volleyball history.
“We knew this was our year, and no one was going to stand in our way,” Stone Bridge senior libero Abby DeVido said. “Especially us seniors, we told each other we weren’t ending the season without a ring. We truly believed that, and I think the playing-to-win mentality was key.”
In the VHSL 5A North region title game on November 14, Potomac Falls took a 2-0 lead and forced Stone Bridge to win back-to-back sets before the Panthers finally won the fifth set. In the state championship game, Stone Bridge — who has played in the state tournament in each of the last two seasons – jumped out to a 1-0 lead forcing Potomac Falls to play from behind.
“Having been to the state tournament gave us a mental edge,” Stone Bridge head coach Jill Raschiatore said. “It also helped that the players knew the feeling of being so close, but having the championship slip away. I think that gave them a spark to push even harder this year.”
But in the second set, Potomac Falls – led by senior hitter Holly Carlton – fought back to even the score at 1-1, before the tides changed again. Stone Bridge defeated the region champs 25-23 in the third set to take a one set lead.
“Being at VCU on the court three times really made me want it even more because I know what it feels like to lose there, and I was not going to let that happen again,” Stone Bridge senior hitter Ashlyn Dunlop said.
Potomac Falls once again showed their persistence in the fourth set evening the score at two sets each with their 25-19 win.
“I am so proud of these girls,” Potomac Falls head coach Linda Lachey-Helms said. “They have learned lessons about themselves and their ability to overcome and believe in themselves that they will carry into their personal and professional lives.”
Entering the fifth set, Stone Bridge found the fire they needed. In the final set, the Bulldogs held Potomac Falls to three points as they became the VHSL 5A state champions.
“It still feels a little surreal right now!” Raschiatore said. “I am proud of the girls for the way they fought to come back from several deficits this year, especially being down in the state semifinals. This group believed they can play with anyone, and they proved it this week.”
Conference 14 champions and now state champs, the Stone Bridge Bulldogs finished out their season with a 25-3 record including a 7-1 record in Conference 14.
“These past years we’ve worked so hard, and our coaches have been so close every year,” DeVido said. “It’s so nice to be rewarded in the best way possible.”
“It feels amazing because this is something that I’ve wanted for so long. I’m so glad that I was a part of this,” Dunlop said. “As seniors, and it being our last year ever playing high school volleyball, we all wanted to win a state title. We knew that it was our year.”
The state championship game, however, was bittersweet for the Panthers who bid farewell to Lachey-Helms who announced her retirement at the end of the 2015 season.
Lachey-Helms was instrumental in the installation of volleyball as a varsity sport in Loudoun County and in the rise of the Potomac Falls volleyball program. The only head coach in the Panthers’ 19-year history, Lachey-Helms capped offer her career in 2015 with her first ever region title and state tournament championship game appearance.
“What a wonderful season this team has had. They so exceeded expectations!” Lachey-Helms said. “Their goals were to put a banner on the wall and make it to the state tournament, and they did it!”