When the Grafton girls volleyball team takes the court for the Class 4 state championship match Saturday, the opponent will be both unfamiliar and haunting.
None of the current Clippers have faced Loudoun County, the team they will play at the Siegel Center in Richmond. Yet the five-time defending champion Raiders loom large on the Virginia volleyball scene and in Grafton volleyball history.
Loudoun County has claimed nine state titles, the most in VHSL history, and all nine have come in the last 10 seasons. The Raiders won four in a row from 2007-10, then five from 2012-16.
Three of those championships, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, came against Grafton. The high-water mark in Clippers history was eclipsed by the rise of the Raiders. Grafton has never won a title.
Since Grafton coach Karissa Cumberbatch took the reins in 2013, the Clippers and Raiders have met just once, in a 2013 state semifinal. Loudoun County swept the match 3-0 en route to a championship.
All of the current Grafton players were at least a year away from the varsity team back in 2013, so they know the stories but not the reality of the Raiders’ dominance.
“We know they’re big,” Cumberbatch said. “We know they have a dynasty there. But you saw the fire in their eyes, and I’ve got it too, and we’re going to go out there and give them the best game possible.”
Grafton slayed one demon already this postseason in perennial Bay Rivers District champion Jamestown.
The Eagles had beaten the Clippers three times this season before Grafton earned a 3-2 win (25-21, 25-23, 21-25, 24-26, 15-8) in Tuesday’s state semifinal at the Jamestown High gymnasium.
“My girls stood up with a different intensity than the last few times we’ve played them,” Cumberbatch said. “An elimination situation, that changes your mindset as a team, as a coach. They were ready to win.”
The Clippers will look for that same intensity in Saturday’s final.
“We were ready and we knew what to do,” senior libero Ansley Ashby said after the win against Jamestown. “We’d put in the work. It was time for us to get rewarded. We were focused, and we were ready, and we didn’t let the crowd and the people distract us.”
On an even bigger stage, they will need to maintain that composure.
“I just want to see us all come in and give the same effort this weekend,” junior outside hitter Becca Hallingstad said.
Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.