After being swept by Stone Bridge in 2010 and losing in five heartbreaking sets to Ocean Lakes in 2011, Atlee's girls volleyball program needed to finish avenging.
Tuesday night, they eliminated Ocean Lakes in the State Quarterfinals, winning three straight sets after falling hard in set 1, advancing to Thursday night's State Semifinals at the VCU Siegel Center.
Awaiting them? Stone Bridge, the Northern Region Champions, the program who ended Atlee's first-ever trip to the Final Four two years earlier....
A close first set didn't need to be, as Atlee came out slow much as they did in the Ocean Lakes match on Tuesday, committing four service errors en route to a 25-23 defeat. Once again, the Raiders would have to dig out of a 1-0 set deficit.
"Remember the Dolphins" would be a good rallying cry.
The next two sets belonged to Atlee, as the Raiders took the second set lead 10-9 on a Hailey Brooks ace and never looked back, getting two timely kills from Clarke Tyler and an ace from Karlie Suber to build the edge. Another Tyler kill clinched set #2 25-19 and it was a new match.
The Raiders played their most consistently in the third set, only falling behind once at 2-1. A Suber kill increased the lead during Kylah Blackmore's servicing to 4-2, and another gave Atlee an 11-8 lead. Brooks had a service error to make the score 12-10, but Atlee responded to win 13 of the next 15 points to roll, 25-12.
At this level, no team quits. The Bulldogs responded with a solid open to set four, taking a 4-1 lead before the Raiders tied it at 4-4. Ryan Ackermann's block on a Raider kill started a four-point Stone Bridge rally to give the Bulldogs an 8-4 lead, leading Atlee coach Curtis Carpenter to call timeout.
Atlee errors mounted as the set continued; Tyler mis-hitting on a kill attempt, Suber the same to increase the Stone Bridge lead to 14-9, and, when Ackermann successfully blocked a Brooks kill attempt to make it 18-11, Carpenter called time again.
Stone Bridge rolled to a 25-16 set win, and the tiebreaker was on. A Kayleigh Moody kill and Hailey Brooks ace made it 2-0. Then the Bulldogs reeled off three points to take the lead. Back-to-back kills by Moody and Suber make it 4-3, and a later Suber kill fired from near mid-court made it 7-4.
The teams traded points for an 8-5 Atlee lead. On the next point, Atlee was originally awarded the point, and after a long pause, the ruling was reversed. Many Raiders, and Raider fans, were surprised by the call.
9-5 was now 8-6 and, two points later, the game was tied 8-8 after a very long point was captured by the Bulldogs to tie it up. Sensing momentum slipping, Carpenter called time and spoke very wise words.
"Coach said to us, 'Don't let a call ruin your game', so we didn't," Brooks said after the match.
Calming words of immense importance to a veteran team at a critical juncture.
Atlee got a Karlie Suber kill out of the timeout for a 9-8 lead, but a service error by Rachel Stanford evened the score. Brooks responded with a kill, but the next point swung to the Bulldogs. Atlee won the next point for an 11-10 lead, then Clarke Tyler snuck in a critical ace for the all-important two-point cushion, 12-10, and the Bulldogs asked for time.
Stone Bridge pushed one more time, scoring twice after the timeout for a 12-12 tie. Atlee won the next point and, at 13-12, Hailey Brooks went to serve. Raider Nation anticipated the victory.
13-13, Stone Bridge to serve. One final time, Atlee dug deep as, this time, the senior starter who gets the least press, Kayleigh Moody, came through huge with a kill for a 14-13 lead.
Then, Moody went for another kill on the next point, her shot blocked, but the ball went out of bounds and the celebration began for Atlee.
Avenging win #2? Check.
Atlee wins 23-25, 25-19, 25-12, 16-25, 15-13, and will now face Kellam, 3-0 winners over Langley in tonight's other semifinal, in the last-ever Group AAA State Championship, Saturday night, 7pm at the Siegel Center.
QUOTABLES FROM POSTGAME:
"That was stressful."---Atlee head coach Curtis Carpenter's first words at the press conference.
"The fifth game is all about serving. We knew we had too many errors tonight.....it's our third time playing at Siegel Center, but there is a depth perception issue. If you serve long, it can be depth perception. If you serve into the next, that's lack of focus."---Hailey Brooks
"I've just wanted to step my game up, especially during regionals and now here during states."---Atlee's Clarke Tyler, asked about her growing role in the team's rotation and improved play at critical times.
"I just had a blast. These guys are my best friends."---Atlee's Karlie Suber
"I'm so proud of our team, how they showed dignity by winning that fourth set. We're not gonna give up."---Stone Bridge head coach Jill Raschiatore.
"In the fourth set, we were charging blocks, looking for holes in their blocking. We play in the hardest district, and that helps us."---Ryan Ackermann of Stone Bridge, who has committed to play collegiately at Rider University....
"In that fourth set, we got a fire back. We remembered when we came back in previous matches. Losing tonight will make us who return work harder. We'll look back now and wonder what could we have done earlier this season to help us win tonight."---Stone Bridge junior Megan Bryn
When asked if a loss tonight would have deemed the Atlee season a disappointment, these are the answers:
"Completely. 100 percent."---Brooks
FINAL WORD: "This team realizes this is a special group, but they've got to work for it. They have worked hard and this is what you reap. I like our chances."---Carpenter when asked about finally breaking the barrier by winning the State Semis and glancing ahead to Saturday's Championship game.....
Atlee is 31-2. One of those victories is against Kellam at the Tournament of Champions in Roanoke in mid-October. But Kellam is the two-time defending State Group AAA Champion.
Saturday's final will be nothing short of a classic battle. Hope to see you there!
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