James Wood sweeps Loudoun County in state volleyball quarterfinals

WINCHESTER — For a decade, Loudoun County set a standard that may never be equaled in the Virginia High School League for volleyball excellence.

The Captains took home 10 straight state titles before being dethroned last season as James Wood took the Class 4 crown.

While the Colonels have a long way to go to match Loudoun County, they just may be the new bar to clear in Class 4.

James Wood netted its fourth consecutive postseason sweep with a 25-15, 28-26, 25-15 victory over Loudoun County at Shirley Gymnasium on Saturday. The Colonels (24-2) next will host Blacksburg in the semifinals at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The Bruins (18-6) knocked off Dulles District champion Rock Ridge 3-1 in another Saturday quarterfinal.

With one state title in the bank and two wins away from a second straight, James Wood knows that it is the team that has the target on its back, like Loudoun County those many years.

“We try our best in practice and to get our names out there to everybody,” said sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Spaid. “Just be the rival to everybody, that’s how we want to play.”

“To compare our success last year to a team that has multiple successes, I don’t know if I would compare us to that,” said James Wood coach Adrienne Patrick. “All we can do is focus on what we’re doing now. I have an amazing group of talented kids and that’s why we’re able to be successful. We hope to continue to build on this. My dream would be to continue to build on the success we had last season.”

The dream certainly is getting closer to a reality given the way the Colonels have played thus far in Region 4D and state playoff action.

Aside from a hiccup in the middle of the second set, James Wood led for the majority of the action against the Captains (17-6), the champions of the Catoctin District and the Region 4C runner-up.

Loudoun County actually led 2-0 in the first set, but in what would be a recurring theme at the start of sets Brenna Corbin got the Colonels in front. She served up two aces in a 6-0 run and James Wood led from there. Loudoun County never got closer than 7-4. Spaid had a pair of kills in a 4-0 run that pushed the lead to 11-4.

The margin ballooned to 21-11 before the Captains had a 4-1 run. Leading 22-15, the Colonels closed out the set with three straight points, two on Loudoun County hitting errors.

Corbin had an ace in a 3-0 run to start the second set and the Colonels rode that momentum to an 8-2 lead. But the Captains, behind some excellent hitting from Ana Smithson and Josephine Seekford, rallied to make the set a nail-biter.

A Colonels hitting error gave Loudoun County a 16-15 lead. The two teams would remain within a point of each other until the Colonels scored three straight to take a 23-20 lead. Ahead 24-22, James Wood had two set points but Smithson’s kill and a block tied it at 24-24.

The Captains would get their own set point while leading 26-25, but Spaid would come up with a big kill in the back corner to square the match.

“I just have to leave it all out there,” Spaid said of her mentality on a big point. “No matter what, I try my best. If I make a mistake, I just move on and do my best.”

From there, the Captains were called for being in the net and they couldn’t handle Ashlynn Spence’s cut shot to end the set.

Corbin said the Colonels don’t let the pressure of the situation affect them. “It’s not really nerves,” she said. “It’s just we want that ball to get that point.”

“They know that pressure exists, but I feel like there are a lot of moments on the court where they aren’t feeling it,” Patrick said of her players. “They know it exists, but they push past that to win.”

And there was no doubt that a 2-0 lead sure was better than being tied at a set apiece.

“It was huge,” Spaid said of winning Set 2. “It definitely brought our momentum back. We definitely fought as a team.”

Set 3 started like the other two. With her team ahead 1-0, Corbin went back and served up four straight points, including an ace, to make it 5-0. Loudoun County would never get closer than three points in the rest of the set.

“I look at my coach, serve where I’m supposed to and hit that ball flat,” Corbin said of her approach.

“She’s the most consistent server on our team. That’s the reason we have her starting,” Patrick said. “It’s her consistency, the ability to keep the ball in play and be aggressive and to serve specific targets in the floor. She has the most service points on the season for us. Yes, it is crucial.”

James Wood grabbed a 9-1 lead in the set. Loudoun County got as close as 12-9 on a kill by Seekford, but the Colonels won the next four points to take control. They closed out the victory on Spence’s kill down the middle.

Spaid led the Colonels with 14 kills, while adding four blocks and eight digs. Spence had a team-high six blocks to go with seven kills and 10 digs. Paige Ahakuelo notched nine kills, 15 digs and 10 assists, while Corbin added nine kills and 13 digs. Hannah McCullough dished out 19 assists and recorded 12 digs.

Corbin said the Colonels are playing “pretty solid” heading into Thursday’s matchup against Blacksburg, who they defeated 25-16, 25-23, 25-14 in the Region 4D final. Tuesday’s winner punches its ticket to the finals at the Siegel Center in Richmond on Friday.

“I feel that the girls collectively know what they have to do,” said Patrick when asked how her team is playing right now. “They talk about it all of the time. They talk about it in the huddles. They know what they have to do to be successful.

“I feel from time-to-time we may have some specific set or a match where somebody isn’t performing as they usually do. The beautiful thing about my team is we have a handful of people that can fill in. That’s why we consider ourselves a family because if there’s somebody down the rest of the team can pick them up.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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