The Grafton High girls volleyball team waited until the spotlight shone brightest to claim its first win against rival Jamestown this season.
The Clippers took a 3-2 victory (25-21, 25-23, 21-25, 24-26, 15-8) against the Eagles in their VHSL Class 4 state semifinal Tuesday night. Grafton had been winless in three previous meetings against its Bay Rivers District nemesis.
Grafton moves on to the state championship match against Loudoun County, a 3-0 winner over Millbrook in the other semifinal. The teams will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday at the VCU Siegel Center in Richmond.
Before the Clippers (23-5) could compete for a state title, they had to dispatch the Eagles (24-3).
Still, while Jamestown had been the source of the majority of Grafton’s defeats, the Clippers had improved each time the teams faced off. They lost 3-0 in September, then 3-1 in October, then 3-2 in the Region 4A final two weeks ago.
So though Grafton entered the Jamestown gymnasium as the underdog, the players also carried a stubborn sense of fate.
“We lost to them in three, we lost in four, we lost in five,” senior libero Ansley Ashby said. “There’s no other option but to win.”
Sophomore middle blocker Olivia Smalls said she shared the same thought as she walked onto the court.
“I’m not leaving this gym losing,” Smalls said. “I’m not. We’ve worked too hard. We deserve this.”
The teams traded the lead back and forth through the first two sets, but Grafton won both to take a 2-0 lead.
Jamestown, though, clawed its way back into the match with victories in the third and fourth set. The Eagles trailed 24-21 in the fourth set, down three match points, but they finished with five straight points to rally for a 26-24 decision.
After that comeback, Jamestown held momentum to start the final set, but the Grafton players maintained their composure.
“I felt nervous, but I had to hide that from my team,” junior outside hitter Becca Hallingstad said. “In the middle of a match, when it’s really tough and the adrenaline is really high, you have to be patient and breathe.”
The Clippers dominated the final set to earn the program’s first state finals appearance since 2010.
Grafton played in the Group AA state finals in 2007, 2009 and 2010, but lost each time to Loudoun County, the team the Clippers will face Saturday. The Clippers have never won a state championship.
Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.