As the Loudoun County High School volleyball team sweeps onto the court for their pre-game warmups, the sounds of rock legends Queen and rock dinosaur Ozzy Osbourne reverberate around the gymnasium.
It is obvious that when the Raiders find something that works, they stick with it.
That may help explain the success of the Loudoun County program, which has won seven straight Virginia High School League state titles, and 11 in the past 12 years. The Raiders continued to look dominant Thursday night at home, sweeping Heritage 25-12, 25-13 and 25-17 to claim the Dulles District tournament championship.
“Heritage is a good volleyball team and they took away some things from us so we had to scramble a little bit to find what they were giving,” Loudoun County head coach John Senchak said. “We had some unforced errors that we have to clean up, but overall we played fairly well.”
The Raiders improved to 23-2 on the season and had already clinched a spot in the Region 4C tournament beginning Monday at home against Millbrook. Senchak said he was pleased to see his team play at a high level even though they were assured of advancing to regionals.
“It’s Raider volleyball,” Senchak said. “Every time they play they want to win, it doesn’t matter what’s at stake. It’s in their DNA. You don’t want to lose heading into the regional playoffs. We didn’t want to look vulnerable.”
The Raiders kept the Pride off-balance by consistently pounding their serves to different spots in the Heritage defense.
“One part of our strategy was to serve tough and work into the deep court and work the perimeter,” Senchak said. “Any time that we can take our opponent out of their system and they don’t get a clean look from their setter, they don’t get to load up their hitters. That’s an advantage to the serving team.”
Senchak noted the play of sophomore Sarah Jordan and senior Oliva Mallow. Jordan led the team with 10 kills and also had eight digs and combined with Mallow and junior Alicia McCandless on eight of the team’s 10 blocks. Mallow had eight kills and tied for the team lead with three service aces.
“Our coach gave us a great game plan and we just went at our attack lines and our setters put up perfect balls for us,” Jordan said. “We can’t do it without our setters.”
In addition to her three aces, Mallow -- the Dulles District Player of the Year -- consistently pounded the Pride’s back line with all her serves, resulting in weak returns that ignited the Raiders’ offense.
“(Serving) is a work in progress and something I have had to work on the whole season,” Mallow said. “It’s all about placement and serving deep. I get pushed by my teammates every day to get better.”
Kennedy Kottkamp led the Raiders with 11 digs and contributed two service aces, and Alayna Jordan had seven digs. Chandler Vaughn and Hannah Prendergast had three aces apiece and Vaughn also had two digs and a team-high 24 assists.
Heritage (16-7) was directed by assistant coach Josh Judd, with head coach Walter Collazo away for a family member’s funeral. As the second-place team in the Dulles District, the Pride also advances to the Region 4C tournament.
Heritage, whose roster includes all-district players Julia Gleason, Joanna Plowman, Abigail Gates and Cassi Neff, will open the regional tournament Monday at James Wood.
Judd said his players competed hard against the Raiders.
“I think we gave the best effort we could against a very strong, competitive team,” Judd said. “They are well-coached, and every team tries their hardest and works their hardest to face them at this point in the season and, hopefully, in a week or two at states.”
Judd said Collazo plans to be on the bench Monday, and that Heritage should be well prepared going into that elimination match after a tough test against the Raiders.
“I saw the tenacity that our team needs for Monday," Judd said. "They knew this game would give them a good warmup, win or lose, and I think Monday we will have a good shot against James Wood.”
Senchak said his team needs to work hard to prepare for the regional matchup with Millbrook.
“We know them, (but) it’s not a team that we play often,” Senchak said. “We know it is going to be a challenge. They are tough all the time. We will be ready and we are looking forward to a good volleyball match.”