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Comeback falls short as Loudoun County volleyball sees region streak snapped

The last time Loudoun County High School’s unprecedentedly successful volleyball program failed to win the regional postseason tournament was 12 years ago, in 2005 - until this season.

On Nov. 8, the Millbrook Pioneers (22-5) came into Leesburg and defeated the top regional seed Loudoun County Raiders (25-3) three sets to two in the Region 4C championship match, with scores of 25-22, 27-25, 21-25, 20-25 and 16-14.

The Raiders’ season next moves into the state tournament phase, beginning with County’s trip to Region 4D champion Blacksburg for a quarterfinal matchup Nov. 11. The road contest - and the Raiders’ defense of their current run of five straight state titles - starts at 7 p.m.

As for the regional result, County head coach Sherrilyn Hanna took the uncharacteristic defeat in stride.

“We live to play another day,” she said. “We’re fighters and we just have to keep fighting.”

The significance of knocking off Loudoun County - nine times the state champion in the last 10 seasons - on its own floor during the postseason was not lost on Millbrook head coach Carla Milton.

“We knew it was going to take everything we had in us to pull this out. Loudoun County is an exceptional team and we earned every point tonight,” said Milton, the Pioneers’ third-year coach. “It’s still unbelievable right now.”

The teams battled through an opening set of 11 ties, then tied each other up nine times during the second set. The Pioneers used late runs to capture both.

“Only regret of the night was that second set,” Hanna lamented. The Raiders led 24-17 but never found that 25th point.

County avoided the shutout, emerging from a 17-17 tie in the third set to win by four, then equalizing with a comfortable fourth-set victory.

When the Raiders and Pioneers found themselves deadlocked at 14-14 in the decisive fifth and final set, it was still anybody’s ballgame. The small but vociferous assemblage of spectators, partisans of both schools, erupted anew after every point.

When the Raiders’ junior middle hitter Kira Merl smacked a service ace to level the score at 14-all, forcing a Millbrook timeout, the home side of the gym roared.

But when the Pioneers’ junior outside hitter Abigail Koeller slammed down a cross-court kill to claim the region championship, the blue-clad side enjoyed the night’s longest cheer.

Junior outside hitter Ashley Rubino led County with 19 kills, while Andersen Vaughan served up 27 assists. Senior defensive specialist Rebecca Frey had 22 digs and 12 service points, though sophomore setter Chandler Vaughan led with three aces.

Millbrook was paced by sophomore Tory Johnson’s 29 kills and 18 digs, and Koeller’s 21 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore middle hitter Jordan Weir got up for 10 blocks.

“We came into the postseason with three words: focus, execution and adjustments,” Hanna said. “It just took us a little too long to make the adjustments.”

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