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Tuscarora wins wild one to reach first-ever state volleyball final

For the first time in their eight-year history, the Tuscarora Huskies are taking this volleyball season as far as it can go.

The Huskies (20-5) earned their debut appearance in the upcoming Virginia Class 5 championship match by defeating previously unbeaten North Stafford (19-1) at home Nov. 14, in a state semifinal that went about as far as it could go. Tuscarora survived the five-set affair with scores of 26-24, 30-32, 25-16, 21-25 and 15-6.

When senior outside hitter Sarah Pearsall slammed down the match-clinching kill nearly three hours after the match started, the Tuscarora players let out screams of jubilation. Moments later an ecstatic band of classmates joined them to celebrate the school history they’d just witnessed.

“This means everything to us,” said senior outside hitter Anne Louise Seekford, the Region 5C Player of the Year. “This has been our goal for a long time.”

The Region 5C champion Huskies will now take a 12-match win streak to the Siegel Center in Richmond, where they will square off Nov. 18 with Region 5A champ Princess Anne to decide this year’s Virginia High School League champion for Class 5.

Tuscarora head coach John Senchak, the region’s Coach of the Year, deflected all credit to his team.

“These players are absolutely committed. They set their goals and they go after them,” he said. “They never quit.”

Early on, the match-up with North Stafford featured a never-ending series of deadlocks as the visiting Wolverines and host Huskies punched and counterpunched. The first set was tied 9-9, then it was 10-10, then it was knotted up 11 more times to reach 24-24. Junior setter Sammy Rodriguez finally ended the opener, tucking a service ace into the corner to give Tuscarora the first-set win.

North Stafford jumped out front to begin the second set, using their powerful front line to run up a 20-11 advantage that the Huskies erased with a 9-0 run. The set was tied at 20-20, then again at each number through 30-30 before North Stafford won two straight points to even sets at 1-1.

“This is just halftime,” Senchak told his players as they awaited the start of the third.

Those players came out and dominated the set, winning the long rallies that their guests had been winning earlier. A six-point lead shrank to three, but Seekford elevated for a big momentum-grabbing kill that ignited a set-winning 6-0 run.

The Wolverines fought back, sustaining a lead of three to five throughout the fourth set to equalize matters at 2-2. That set up a season-defining fifth and final set.

“It was just a do-or-die attitude,” Seekford said. “We knew that if we lost that set, our season would be over, so we just gave it everything we had.”

The home side of the crowd got loud as Pearsall and Seekford took turns providing the kills, putting Tuscarora quickly up 10-5. They grew louder when Seekford and junior defensive specialist Ashton Dunnigan dropped in aces to push it to 12-5.

The Wolverines managed just one more point before the Huskies won the match, setting off a wild celebration on the Tuscarora High School gymnasium floor.

“Tonight wasn’t a match-up of our physical skills. Both these teams have really strong hitters,” said Seekford, who noted the Huskies’ emphasis on digging and blocking. “I think it was all a mental game, whoever wanted it more.”

Defense was demanded of the Huskies to counteract North Stafford’s barrage of hitters. Five Huskies got down for 12 or more digs, paced by Gabriela “Gibby” Santos’ 20 digs. Santos and Pearsall join Seekford as all-region first-teamers.

“Our focus coming in to this game was that we were going to play defense better than anyone on Earth,” Senchak stated. “We have a great defense that has carried us through this entire season.”

Offensively, Seekford led with 22 kills while Pearsall - known as Sasha Fierce to her teammates - put down 20. Rodriguez tapped up 50 assists.


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