Leesburg, Va. — 2022 was the first time in more than a decade that the Loudoun County High School volleyball team wasn’t raising a district championship banner. After an 11-8 regular season, the No. 4 Captains were swept by No. 5 Broad Run in a Dulles District quarterfinal.
With just five returners coming back for the 2023 season, the Captains knew they had an uphill battle if they wanted to reclaim their district title. And that battle started with building team chemistry.
“We only have five returners from last year’s roster, so it’s a completely different team. We had to find what works for us,” Loudoun County senior middle Madeline Moskal said. “We focused really hard in the beginning of the season to figure out our chemistry. We built some great chemistry together, and I can’t be more proud of my team.”
That early preparation put the Captains in the driver’s seat of the newly established Catoctin District, where they finished a perfect 8-0 in district and 15-4 overall in the regular season.
Loudoun County quickly dispatched No. 4 John Champe in a district semifinal, setting up a matchup with No. 3 Woodgrove for the district championship.
After dropping the first set, the Captains bounced back, knocking off the Wolverines—23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-14—to claim the inaugural Catoctin District title on October 26 in Leesburg.
“We’re pumped,” Loudoun County head coach Sarah Mozeyko said. “We’re just excited to bring the district title back to County.”
The Captains and Wolverines traded points early in the first set before Woodgrove found some momentum midway through the first—thanks in part to the play of junior outside Jackie Colucci (10 kills, 5 aces)—forcing a Loudoun County timeout at 19-15.
Coming out of the timeout, the Wolverines extended that lead on a block by senior outside Lilly Soska (10 kills, 1 ace, 1 block). The Captains, however, got back on track after a Woodgrove attack error and a kill by junior middle Abi Long (9 kills).
Then, trailing 24-20, the Captains rallied off three straight points on a kill by Moskal, an ace by junior setter Clara Jolly (18 assists, 1 kill, 1 ace), and another Woodgrove attack error to cut the lead to 24-23.
But, despite the late Loudoun County rally, the Wolverines held off the Captains to claim the first set, 25-23.
“Adjusting to the new lineup was a challenge for us, but our girls won’t go down without a fight,” Mozeyko said. “We pushed through the second, third, and fourth set, making the most out of our whole team as a unit.”
The Captains’ new lineup featured sophomore setter Claire Popish, making her varsity debut in the absence of junior setter Grace Galos.
“She held her own,” Mozeyko said. “It was a big accomplishment for her to be called up to varsity and an even bigger accomplishment helping us win tonight. She did a great job.”
After working out her nerves in the first set, Popish settled in in the second, helping to create a balanced attack. Along with Jolly, Popish (17 assists, 2 aces) spread the ball around to all of her different weapons as the Captains took a 17-14 lead midway through the second set.
As the setters found their rhythm, Loudoun County senior outside hitter Madison LaRue (9 kills, 2 aces, 1 block, 1 assist) also started to get going, using a set-high five kills to help the Captains even out the match with a 25-23 win in the second.
Loudoun County really started to show its weapons in the third when a pair of kills from both senior opposite Izzy Miller (6 kills, 3 blocks) and junior outside Ana Smithson (8 kills, 1 ace, 2 assists) forced a Woodgrove timeout at 9-5.
Out of the timeout, the Captains continued to spread out their attack as they won the third set, 25-20, with six kills from the right side, five from the middle, and five from the outside, challenging Woodgrove to defend all three positions.
“Once we saw that the block was stationed on our outside hitters, we just told our setters that we have to work with our middles and right sides,” Mozeyko said. “Claire is still getting to know all the hitters on varsity and how they like it, but her and Clara did a really good job spreading it around tonight.”
Trailing 2-1, the Wolverines were ready to put up a fight as they went point for point with the Captains to start the fourth set. After Loudoun County created a small cushion, Woodgrove cut the lead to 16-14, as the Captains took a timeout.
That timeout proved to be the ultimate turning point as Loudoun County used a Woodgrove service error then back-to-back kills by Moskal (8 kills, 1 ace, 1 assist) to spark a 9-0 run to close the set, the match, and the Catoctin District championship, 25-14.
Having returned the district championship trophy to Leesburg, the Captains will turn their preparation to their VHSL Region 4C semifinal with Dulles District runner up Dominion on October 30. The Titans swept the Captains in their only regular season matchup on September 28. Meanwhile, the Wolverines will have their chance at redemption when they travel to Dulles District champion Rock Ridge for a region semifinal on the same night.
“Dominion is tough. They’ve always put up a good fight against us,” Mozeyko said. “We’re just excited to see them again, but we have a lot of work to do.”