Ashburn, Va. — Going into the Dulles District tournament championship, the Rock Ridge High School volleyball team was facing a familiar foe in Dominion High School. Having bested the No. 2 Titans in both of their earlier meetings this season en route to a regular season title, the No. 1 Phoenix were looking for a similar result this time around.
Although they had a slow start—dropping the first set, 25-18—Rock Ridge bounced back to take the next three sets—27-25, 25-17, 25-14—to win their first Dulles District tournament title on October 26 in Ashburn.
“I’m just really proud of the girls,” first-year Rock Ridge head coach Buzz Laird said. “That’s it.”
The night opened up with Dominion in complete control of the first set. Led offensively by junior right side hitter Kaitlyn Demitz (12 kills), junior middle hitter Abby Vasak (9 kills), and sophomore outside hitter Megan Hiltner (9 kills), the Titans used a balanced attack and strong service pressure to easily win the first set, 25-18, having only trailed early in the set.
“They knew that they had to pick up their energy,” Laird said. “The difference was just the girls picking up the energy after the first set. That’s all. And they knew it.”
The Phoenix started to find their groove early in the second set, jumping out to a 9-4 lead behind a couple kills from senior outside hitter Grace Tucker (12 kills) to force a Titan timeout. But Dominion rallied back to even the score at 15-15, which forced Rock Ridge to burn a timeout of their own. During the Titans’ surge to reclaim the lead in the second set, Vasak recorded 4 aces on 5 serves.
“Dominion, they’re a good team,” Laird said. “And when they’re going, they’re tough. So we had to match what they did.”
What followed was a back-and-forth battle to close out the pivotal second set. Neither team held more than a two-point lead down the stretch until Rock Ridge pulled away at 23-20 to force Dominion to use their final timeout. But after two kills from Hilter and one from Demitz, the Titans evened the score at 23-23, and Rock Ridge used their final timeout of the set to try to slow the momentum.
Although they lost the point coming out of the timeout, Rock Ridge fended off two Dominion set-points at 24-23 and 25-24 and ended the second set on a 3-point run behind a couple more kills from Tucker to take the victory, 27-25.
“They picked up the energy and cleaned things up,” Laird said. “They came together and so it was really just about them.”
The first half of the third set featured several lead changes in what appeared to be another dogfight to take the lead in the match. However, the Phoenix started to create some distance after a couple aces from senior libero Isha Uppalli and senior setter Ankita Kamath put them up 16-11. Junior outside hitter Lola Aguilar scored 4 of her 7 kills in the third set and shut the door on the Titans with 2 kills in the final points of the set to end it at 25-17.
“We know what we have in Grace, so we know we can always go to her,” Laird said. “We’ve just had to learn we have to mix it up in order to win.”
The beginning of the fourth set was looking very reminiscent of the start of the third set, as neither team held more than a 3-point lead at any given time. But a block by junior middle hitter Rania Lahbibi (10 kills, 2 blocks) to put the Phoenix up 17-14 and force the Titans to call a timeout, shifted the momentum to the Rock Ridge side for good. The Phoenix went on an 11-0 scoring run, which featured 3 loud Lahbibi kills from Kamath (32 assists, 3 kills, 2 aces), to close out the fourth set and claim the match victory, 25-14.
“It takes everybody,” Laird said. “So we can’t just throw it out to Grace every single time. Once the other hitters get rolling, it’s really hard to stop us.”
Despite the loss, Dominion’s season is not over, as they clinched the Dulles District No. 2 seed, and will travel to Catoctin District champion Loudoun County for a VHSL Region 4C semifinal on October 30. Rock Ridge will host Catoctin District runner up Woodgrove for the other Region 4C semifinal game on the same night.
“These girls know we have more to do,” Laird said. “Every time we get a win, they know we have more to do. They don’t lose sight of the end goal and where we want to get to. So it’s one game at a time, one accomplishment at a time.”