Colonels sweep Blacksburg for second straight region volleyball title

WINCHESTER — The Blacksburg volleyball team showed plenty of fight in the second set of Saturday's Region 4D championship match, wiping out a 19-13 deficit with a 10-3 run that included a point for James Wood that it thought involved an incorrect call.

The Colonels simply responded like the state champs — and family — that they are.

Trailing 23-22, James Wood captured the next three points to take the set, then continued its perfect postseason with a match-ending 10-2 run in the third set to capture its second straight region championship.

The Colonels — Region 4D's No. 1 North seed — have captured all nine sets in their three postseason matches, defeating No. 2 South seed Blacksburg by the scores of 25-16, 25-23, 25-14 on Saturday.

James Wood (24-2) will host Region 4C runner-up Loudoun County (17-5) at 5 p.m. next Saturday in the Class 4 state quarterfinals, while Blacksburg (17-6) will travel to Region 4C champion Rock Ridge (18-4).

The Colonels closed out the first set by closing with an 11-3 run, but the Bruins showed on Saturday they're not the type of team that crumbles when adversity hits. They committed three attack errors in falling behind 6-1, and committed three more attack errors and three service errors but still hung with James Wood for much of the first set.

Despite seven attack errors — one of which was a spike that sailed long but they thought was tipped by James Wood, resulting in a 20-17 deficit — Blacksburg still found itself up 23-22 in the second set. Four blocks — three of them by Rowan English — helped the Bruins in their quest to even the match.

Down 23-22, Colonels coach Adrienne Patrick took a timeout to try and halt the Bruins charge, and she told her players about trusting in each other.

"I reminded them that family comes first, and this is a family," Patrick said. "All the girls are very talented. They have the skills. But sometimes what it takes is knowing that somebody has your back. I just wanted them to keep knowing that. If you make an error, or you make a mistake, your team has your back."

A Blacksburg attack error made it 23-23 and put the ball in James Wood senior setter Hannah McCullough's hands. McCullough said she felt some anxiousness at that point, but she immediately responded with an ace.

"I just stood back there, took a deep breath, and served the ball," McCullough said.

McCullough put her next serve in play as well, and the ball eventually came back to her for a set to Paige Ahakuelo. The senior sent a blistering spike down the middle for a set-ending kill and generated roars from the Colonels fans.

"We wanted it," said Ahakuelo of James Wood's finish to the second set. "[That mind-set] just kind of kept us going."

The Bruins hung tough in the fourth set as well. But with the score 15-12, McCullough assisted a Kennedy Spaid kill, one of three Spaid would deliver in a 5-0 run. Attack errors would continue to haunt the Bruins from there, as they committed three over the remainder of the game for a total of seven in the set and 21 in the match.

When Blacksburg watched the ball drop on its side of the floor on an attack attempt on match point, Colonel fans applauded the latest championship performance. The Colonels' main goal is to take ownership of another state championship trophy at Virginia Commonwealth University on Nov. 17, but the players' screams after receiving the trophy, and the smiles on their faces as they posed for pictures, showed they are savoring every step on the journey to Richmond.

"It's really cool," McCullough said. "Last year, we set some big, high standards for ourselves. Of course we want to continue to do more, but getting back-to-back region championships is pretty big."

Patrick said the manner in which the team is playing should serve it well in the future.

"Playing together and staying together is what is going to take us through," she said.

Ahakuelo had 11 kills to tie for the match lead with Spaid, who had two aces. James Wood was also led by Brenna Corbin (five kills, two aces), Tenley Mattison (four kills, two blocks) and Ashlynn Spence (three kills, two blocks). Blacksburg was paced by Audrey Stenger (10 kills), English (four kills, four blocks), Suzuka Kato (five aces) and Katey Mathena (five kills).

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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