Judges volleyball aces Louisa, 3-0
WINCHESTER — Poor Louisa County.
A miscalculation of how long the trip to Handley for Tuesday night’s Conference 23 semifinal volleyball match left the Lions late and hustling to get ready after they arrived in Maddex-Omps Gymnasium at 5:55 p.m. — five minutes before play was supposed to begin.
Once things started, there was the catcalls from one very loud student in Handley’s “Loud Crowd” section. With a megaphone in hand, the student would bellow “Ace!” every time Judges senior Allie Hoffman would release her jump serve.
As Hoffman continued to pepper Louisa’s back row with ace after ace, the same student would occasionally throw in, “I’m in your heads, Louisa!”
This was how it went for the Lions through the early stages, and Hoffman dropped nine aces to open the match on a 15-0 run. The Judges won the first set at 3, and though Louisa put up a better fight over the next two sets, Handley won those two (at 18 and 17) as well to gain a 3-0 (25-3, 25-18, 25-17) sweep and clinch a trip back to the regional playoffs — this time in 4A North — next week.
“Coming in, definitely, I always look at coach [Lindsay Cole] for spots,” said Hoffman, who had a 12-point service run earlier this season in a win over Skyline. “And that’s a big thing, because if you find an open spot and you serve to it, almost always you can get an ace or something.
“Also once you find [an opponent] and can get in their head a little bit, it’s something you can definitely use to your advantage and get them in a little funk.”
Cole knew a little something about her opponent, having faced Louisa in both a scrimmage and Conference 23 jamboree last month at Harrisonburg where all six teams competed.
That familiarity certainly helped, and the Judges (10-7) made few mistakes — in fact, they did not have an attack error (finishing with just three) until the third set — and held off the only serious threat they received from the Lions by closing out the second set strong and moving ahead 2-0 in the match.
“I think, definitely, Allie set the tone with her serve,” said Cole, who got the Judges within a win of the state playoffs last season before falling to eventual state champion Loudoun County in the old Region II semifinals. “Consistently rolling off 15 points in that first set, I think that just pumped everyone up with the intensity.
“Carrying that over to the second set we were maybe a little overconfident, but we were able to come away with [a set-win]. Louisa kind of got a little scrappier on defense. But overall, when we were able to get the offense set, we were able to score points on their defense.”
The Lions got all three of their points in the first set off missed serves by the Judges, and Louisa (9-11) did not register its first kill until senior Julie Musser got one for the Lions' first point of the second set.
That exchange was followed by an ace from senior Heather Treynor for a 2-1 lead. It would be the only time in the match that the Lions would hold a lead, but they did continue to compete well in the second set.
After Treynor’s ace, the Judges rolled off a 7-0 run, which was triggered by two aces from senior Liz Grove and two kills from senior Rachel Dodson, for an 8-2 lead.
A series of attack errors by the Lions allowed the Judges to keep building their lead, and after junior Emily Snow hit through the Louisa block for a kill, Handley had a 20-11 lead.
The Lions, who would start to find a better flow and produce 10 kills in the second set after having none in their lopsided first-set loss, then scored four straight, getting kills from junior Jill Elkins and Treynor, an ace down the line from senior Katrina Williams, and a kill to the back row from sophomore Rebecca Bookman to cut the Judges’ lead to 20-15 and force Cole to use a timeout.
As it turned out, it would be the only time Cole needed one in the match.
Out of the break, Williams sent her next serve long and the Lions followed that with an attack error to allow Handley to get its lead back to seven.
Handley senior Semefa Tettegah then had a crucial kill, and Louisa called for timeout. The Lions got it back to five late, but Grove nailed consecutive kills to clinch the set.
“We just needed to realize that we needed to finish it and there was no doubt that we would,” Hoffman said. “We just had to come out strong. I think we came out a little too complacent, so we needed to step up and show them what Handley volleyball is all about.”
The Judges had 11 kills as a team without an attack error in the second-set win, led by Tettegah with three, and Snow, Grove, Dodson, and senior Alexis Zygmunt each collecting two apiece.
“She just told us to go for it because they were a scrappy team and you never know what to expect,” Tettegah said of Cole’s pep-talk in the late second-set timeout. “She told us to be on our toes and be ready for the ball wherever it goes.”
Louisa coach Joel Abe was happy his team began to bounce back in the second set and give the Judges a push.
“That’s what we talk about — having resiliency,” Abe said. “We have five seniors, and that’s the leadership part they’ve been working on this year. You can always come back in a game and it was great to see in both [the second and third] sets they made a late push and kept fighting all the way up until the end.”
Handley got a big boost from Liza Homan to begin the third set, and the sophomore’s three kills quickly put the Judges in front. A 5-0 run a short time later increased the hold to 11-2, sparked by a Homan block off a free ball that was returned too close to the net off Zygmunt’s serve, two straight aces from Zygmunt, and two kills (both off tips) by Grove.
The play of Homan, Grove, and Dodson kept things under control deep into the set until Louisa had one last push after Cole changed up her lineup to allow several recent junior varsity call-ups to get some postseason experience.
The Lions scored five points during six late exchanges, but the Judges sealed it when Tettegah sent a kill down for match point.
It was balance once again for the Judges, and all six seniors had a big hand. Grove (six kills, one ace), Tettegah (five kills, eight digs), Zygmunt (four kills, three total blocks), Hoffman (14 assists), Molly Mintschenko (an ace), and Nichole Smith (eight assists) all had their moments and helped the Judges earn their place in the Conference 23 final, which will be played on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Fluvanna.
“Especially since we have six seniors, everyone on the team wants to go out with a bang,” Tettegah said. “It’s our last season of volleyball and it’s almost over.”
A senior closed it out with a kill, and a senior with a big serve got the team out to a start that built all the confidence they needed.
Hoffman, too, is cherishing playing with her classmates and wants the good moments to last as long as they can.
“It was a big goal [to win in three sets on Tuesday],” Hoffman said. “We want to come out as strong as we can in our conference. It was really important to win here [Tuesday]. I’ve played with these girls from seventh grade and through many travel seasons, and it’s really important our senior year that we finish strong and have nothing left to give on the court.”