Warhill struck early and smashed Great Bridge in three sets Tuesday night in a Region 4A girls volleyball semifinal in the Lions’ gym.
Warhill senior Chloe Wilmouth set an early aggressive tone with a spike on the first point of the opening set.
From there on Warhill kept the lead, but Great Bridge didn’t make it easy. The Wildcats kept the set close through the first half with decent offensive play and hustle, but the Warhill defense was too much for them to muster by.
About two-thirds of the way through the first set, Warhill scrambled to keep the ball alive. One player dove to dig the ball and kept it alive for her teammates to set up a spike by Wilmouth for a point. That hustle play gave Warhill an 18-12 lead.
A late-set spike from Great Bridge’s Natalie Holzhauer allowed the Wildcats to keep within close range, but the Lions clinched the first set by a 25-16 score after a spike block from juniors Gracie Dry and Giorgia McLean.
Warhill senior Carrie Vanleliveld served and scored the first two points of the second set for the Lions, but Great Bridge’s Paige Fisher answered with a strong spike.
Great Bridge, which tied the second set at 7-all after the Wildcats blocked a spike attempt from Warhill junior Hailey Hopkins, briefly held a one-point lead before Warhill went on a big surge and claimed the second set 25-15 after a Great Bridge serve attempt went out of bounds.
Great Bridge tried to prolong the match after taking an early three-point lead in the third set, but Warhill again had an answer.
Hopkins and the Lions went on another big run and took the third set 25-13 as the crowd grew louder with shouts of support for both teams.
“The girls were fired up,” said Warhill coach Greg Koon.
The Lions made more service and technical errors than in their previous match against Deep Creek, but Koon was not concerned.
“That happens,” Koon said. “If they get any kind of doubt in their minds and they start thinking ‘oh I can’t do this I can’t do that’ that’s when it winds up happening. I just try to keep them positive. We tell them: focus on doing this, concentrate on doing that.”
Warhill played Grafton Thursday night for the region championship in the Clippers’ gym and Grafton came away with a hard-earned 20-25, 25-22, 29-27, 25-23 victory.
With the win, the Clippers (25-1) will host their Class 4 state quarterfinal Nov. 10 and, if they win that, their state semifinal Nov. 13.
That advantage was hard-earned as each of the four sets, and particularly the final three, were nip-and-tuck, grind-it-out affairs in which the teams were rarely separated by more than a point or two nearing the finish.
The Clippers, who have handed the Lions (22-3) their only defeats this season, were more consistent on the biggest points.
“For somebody to come into our gym and attack us the way they did, and for us to respond and pull out a win, even not playing well, you can’t ask for more than that as a coach,” Grafton coach Karissa Cumberbatch said.
Warhill, which won Class 3 state titles in 2014 and ’15, will join Grafton in the state tournament. The Lions will play at the Region B champion on Nov. 10, while the Clippers host the Region B runner-up.
“It’s nice to be back in the state tournament,” Koon said. “It’s not so nice to have to travel.”
Marty O’Brien contributed to this report.
For Great Bridge, the game was a poignant moment for head coach Stephanie Puett.
“I’ve got seven seniors, I’m emotional,” Puett said. “This is into my fifth season, I’ve been with my seniors four years. They’re like family. You don’t just coach them with volleyball you coach them with life.”
Her team has taught her patience, tenacity and how to find the fun in the sport, she said.
The Wildcats will spend the 2019 season rebuilding and looking to improve individual players’ skills, Puett said.
The Lions extended their season to 24-2 and faced Bay Rivers District rival Grafton High School (24-1) at Grafton Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the playoffs.
The Lions’ winning streak came to end against Grafton as the Clippers beat the Warhill squad in four sets.
But it’s not the end for the Warhill team, they’re headed to the state tournament on Saturday, Nov. 10. The time of the tournament was not immediately available.
For updates on the Warhill volleyball team, check out twitter.com/WarhillVB.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.