Leesburg, Va. — Having dropped a 3-set match to Dominion High School during their regular season meeting, the Loudoun County High School volleyball team was looking for a different result during a VHSL Region 4C semifinal match on October 30 in Leesburg. After jumping out to a 2-set lead, the Captains appeared to be in the driver’s seat. But the Titans answered by taking the next two sets to even the score and force a deciding fifth set. Although both teams battled for the win, Loudoun County came out on top to claim the match victory: 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 26-28, 15-12.
“We’re a much different team than we were the last time we saw them. We had a few players out, so it wasn’t our true self,” Loudoun County head coach Sarah Mozeyko said. “I think tonight we were able to see the best that we are.”
Out of the gate, both teams fought to establish a lead and create momentum. But on a night that featured many ties and several lead changes, this didn’t come easily, as neither team wanted to see their season come to an end. The first significant lead came at 14-10 as the Titans pulled ahead—thanks to a pair of kills each by junior middle hitter Abby Vasak (20 kills, 1 ace, 1 block) and junior right side hitter Kaitlyn Demitz (12 kills, 1 block)—to force a Loudoun County timeout.
“Our team strategy was to stay mentally stable, because in serve-receive sometimes we just get a little rattled after a few points,” Loudoun County senior outside hitter Madison LaRue said. “But we really stood up to them and stayed disciplined.”
The Captains countered with an 8-2 run to take over the lead and cause Dominion to burn a timeout of their own at 18-16. Loudoun County then built their largest lead of the set after a Dominion attack error and a kill and a block from senior right side hitter Izzy Miller (6 kills, 1 block) put the Captains up 21-16. Although Dominion fought back with a kill and a block of their own from senior right side hitter Olivia D’Egidio, it wasn’t enough as the Captains closed out the first set, 25-20.
The start of the second set was similar to the first, but with the roles reversed as Loudoun County took the first major advantage at 11-6 behind the strong offensive output of Miller, LaRue, and junior outside hitter Ana Smithson (11 kills, 2 aces, 1 block). As the Titans fought to even the score, LaRue came alive to score half of her team-high 14 kills in the second set.
“We’re really disciplined on defense. We had really good sets, and we were able to finish.”
—Loudoun County outside Madison LaRue
“Finding all the hitters on the court is something we talked about early in the season and we’re trying to make it one of our goals,” Mozeyko said. “We have really good power hitters on the outside, so because the block is already set up at that base, we focus on feeding the ball in different areas when we can.”
The Captains were successful at spreading the wealth and generating their offense, as all six Loudoun County hitters had at least 5 kills apiece for the match. What’s more is that the defense shut down the Dominion powerhouse in Demitz and did not allow her a single kill in the second set, en route to a 25-22 victory to go up two sets to none.
“We focused on their top players and how to defend them,” Mozeyko said. “We pinpointed key zones that we wanted to attack first and then our secondary zones which we were trying to attack later on.”
Despite the momentum being on the Loudoun County side, Dominion was not going down without a fight. The third set began in the same way as the previous two, with the teams trading points early. But Dominion started to pull ahead following a 12-2 run that featured several kills from Vasak, Demitz, and junior outside hitter Alena Smith (8 kills, 2 aces, 1 block) to give them the largest lead of the night at 18-11.
After a few Dominion errors put the set back within reach for the Captains, the Titans used a timeout at 21-19 to regroup. Out of the break, the teams traded points to end the set. Although Loudoun County put up a valiant effort, it wasn’t enough to slow down the Titans, who claimed the third set, 25-22, to keep the match going.
“The focus was getting our offense running more smoothly, especially when we were out of system,”LaRue said.
After another back-and-forth battle to open the fourth set, the Titans carried over their momentum from the third set and started to create distance when a 14-10 lead led to a Loudoun County timeout. But a back-to-back kill/block combo by Loudoun County junior middle hitter Abi Long (5 kills, 4 blocks) and a couple Dominion errors put the Captains right back in it.
“We kept to our normal strategies,” Mozeyko said. “It’s just different for each team we play.”
The lead shifted back and forth with each team going on small runs down the stretch, but eventually Loudoun County went up 22-18 behind three timely kills from freshman right side hitter Kayla Luther (8 kills) for their largest lead of the set. With no timeouts left, the Titans relied on Vasak, Demitz, and Smith to get the job done, as they fended off three Loudoun County match-points before finally finishing on back-to-back Demitz kills to win the set, 28-26.
“I think the mindset was win or go home,” LaRue said. “For the first time ever, I think everyone wanted to have practice the next day, and I think that made everyone realize this is the time we win, no more messing around.”
After five ties and four lead changes in the final set, Loudoun County gained some momentum and jumped to a 9-7 lead after a few Dominion errors forced the Titans to call a timeout.
The Captains extended their lead as the teams traded points out of the break, and Dominion used its final timeout five points later at 12-9 in an attempt to shift the momentum back to their side. But it was too little too late as the Captains would not relinquish the lead they had built earlier in the set.
Although Dominion put up a good fight and looked as though they might force the set to go extra points after surviving one match-point, Loudoun County closed it out at 15-12 to claim a spot in the VHSL Region 4C championship match and punch their ticket to the state tournament.
“It’s so exciting to go to the region final and get to play in states,” Mozeyko said. “Having only five returning players, it’s such a new feeling for everyone.”
On November 2, Loudoun County will travel to Rock Ridge—who bested Woodgrove 3-1 in the other region semifinal match—for the Region 4C championship match. Both Loudoun County and Rock Ridge have both already secured their spot in the VHSL Class 4 State tournament.
“Everybody is feeling some sort of way. We all have our jitters, but we’ll deal with those and hopefully get back down to playing volleyball, just one point at a time,” Mozeyko said. “We’re focusing on working hard, correcting our unforced errors, and making sure everybody’s on the same page so there’s no miscommunication.”