By Owen Gotimer
Leesburg (September 14, 2016) – When your team opens up game one of a volleyball match on a 9-0 run, you can be pretty confident that you are in control. But on September 13, the Rock Ridge High School volleyball team found out the hard way that big leads can quickly vanish as Heritage High School upended them in the first game and eventually battled them into the fifth set. The third-year Phoenix finally got the answer they were looking for when a Pride hit sailed out of bounds late in the fifth game to give Rock Ridge the 16-14 win to lock up the match (22-25, 25-16, 25-18, 24-26, 16-14).
“We fought hard all five games, so seeing that last point on the scoreboard was just so exciting,” Rock Ridge senior libero Jenna Fortier said. “I can’t even put it into words.”
Throughout the night, the Pride tested the mental fortitude of the Phoenix, especially in the second and fifth sets. After starting game one down 9-0, Heritage fought back overcoming the nine-point lead thanks in part to the service game of senior libero Madison Eudy, who scored seven consecutive service points closing the gap to 14-13. Rock Ridge surrendered the lead after a brief 18-18 tie and never regained enough momentum to hold onto the key first set.
“Their defense was phenomenal. Our serves are just solid, so we got them a little bit on their heels, but their defense got them out of it,” Rock Ridge head coach Chad O’Brien said. “I think we got a little bit slack. We lost to these guys three times last year, so being up 9-0 was almost like ‘are we really supposed to do this?’ We finally realized that we were supposed to be here, but at that point Heritage was on fire.”
The Phoenix bounced back in games two and three, dominating the starts much like they did in the first set. But in both the second and third games, Rock Ridge never hesitated, cruising to decisive wins.
“When our passing is in system, Lauren [Tracy] is such a good setter that we can spread the net,” O’Brien said. “We’re not huge; our tallest girl may be 5-foot-10, if we’re lucky. We’re playing teams that are 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 across the net. But we’re disciplined and stay in offense when we can.”
A back-and-forth fourth set ended in favor of Heritage, but Rock Ridge’s passing and setting in game five was just enough to squeak by to defeat the Pride for the first time in school history.
“We are improving every single year. Every practice we set a goal, and we meet it,” Rock Ridge junior setter Lauren Tracy said. “Tonight, we really just showed that we’ve been working hard.”
However, even the fifth set was a challenge for Rock Ridge – who saw their 9-0 game one lead flashing before their eyes as Heritage took a 14-13 lead in the final game. And if it had been last year, the Phoenix might have collapsed when faced with this adversity. But this 2016 Rock Ridge team is different. This 2016 Rock Ridge team is the real deal.
“Our team has been basically the same for three years,” Fortier said. “Heritage has beaten us every time we’ve played them, so we had a lot of fire in our belly. We really wanted to come out here and beat them, and we did that, so I’m really proud of all of us.”