RICHMOND — Following Jamestown’s penultimate practice Thursday before Saturday’s Group 4A girls volleyball final, Eagles coach Tom Stephenson predicted powerhouse Loudoun County could lose the first two sets and still not come unhinged.
On Saturday evening under the bright lights in VCU’s Siegel Center, Loudoun County dropped the first set, although it was unnoticeable in their boisterous pre-set, smile-laden huddle before the second frame.
The Raiders know how to win, and they did it again Saturday for their ninth state title in the last 10 seasons, taking the final three sets from Jamestown to secure the <FZ,1,0,10>match 17-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17.
“I felt going in that we had all of the pieces on this team to finally take one for Jamestown and one from Loudoun County,” Stephenson said. “But it didn’t happen.”
There lies the enormous heartbreak for the Eagles (28-2), who had only lost previously this season to 5A champion Princess Anne, and had not dropped a set since mid-October before Saturday.
For the fifth straight season, Jamestown’s season was ended by Loudoun County (28-2), including last season’s four-set loss to the Raiders in the final.
Each team knew when it left the Siegel Center in 2015 that a rematch was likely in the cards. Loudoun County was losing a North Carolina Tar Heels recruit and other upperclassmen, but the five-time reigning champion Raiders often reload with transfers.
“We knew (Jamestown) wanted us more than any team has ever wanted to beat us,” Loudoun County senior middle hitter Sela Carington said. “In order to beat them, we had to train and push ourselves.”
“(Our players) are part of a great high school volleyball program,” Raiders coach Sherrilyn Hanna said, “but this is Hailey Rubino’s senior year, this is Sela’s senior year, Hannah Aycock’s senior year, and just because another team wants it, it doesn’t mean that we want it any less. … If you want it, you’re going to have to take it from us because we’re going to stand up and fight you for it.”
Rubino, a powerful 6-foot senior outside hitter headed to the University of New Mexico, transferred in from Paul VI for her final season and did her share of fighting Saturday, tallying 16 kills and 11 digs to lead the Raiders.
Loudoun County outblocked Jamestown 20-9. Rubino’s 6-2 sophomore sister, Ashley, had five of those and Jensen Robberstad, a 6-foot junior, came off the bench to lead the Raiders with seven.
Jamestown senior Maria Esch, a UNC Greensboro recruit, had a game-high 17 kills to go along with 18 digs.
Classmate Ellie Popelka, a South Carolina signee, registered 16 kills and three blocks. Marymount University-bound Maggie Viniard contributed 41 assists as the setter.
Jamestown responded well to its second-set loss, but its 16-8 lead in the third set didn’t stand up. Tied at 22, the Eagles caught a bad break when a Popelka hit just barely landed out of bounds before Hailey Rubino recorded consecutive kills to end the set.
Uncharacteristic unforced errors, including several from the service line, cost Jamestown throughout the match.
“They just kind of put the ball over and let us make the mistakes,” Viniard said of the third set. “They stayed composed. They rarely had any errors in that run. They stayed in system.”
“We gave it everything we had,” Popelka said. “We threw our bodies on the court. They just seemed a little more controlled than we did.”
Jamestown, still in search of the school’s first volleyball state title, will lose six seniors. The returners should be led by junior Emma Schriner, a 6-3 Tennessee recruit.
The Eagles’ remarkable run included district, conference and region titles and an 18-match win streak, including a victory over 6A champion Kellam. Even with the loss, they have a case to be considered among the top few teams in the state in any classification.
“That may be a small consolation at this moment,” Stephenson said, “but as you reflect back on your high school career and the season you had, hopefully you can look at that and take some pride in that.”
Loudoun County d. Jamestown 17-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17. Standouts: Loudoun, H. Rubino 16 kills, 11 digs, 2 blocks; Vaughan 39 assists, 10 digs; Robberstad 7 blocks, 4 kills. Jamestown, Esch 17 kills, 18 digs, 2 blocks; Popelka 16 kills, 8 digs, 3 blocks; Schriner 9 kills; Viniard 41 assists, 7 digs; Piatak 10 digs; Pettengell 12 digs. Records: Loudoun County 28-2, Jamestown 28-2.
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.