WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.
For just the fourth time all season, Jamestown was unable to put another notch in its win column.
During Saturday's Group 4A state championship match at Virginia Commonwealth University's Stuart C. Siegel Center, the Eagles struggled to contain a tall, physical Loudoun County lineup in a 20-25, 25-22, 20-25, 18-25 loss.
With as many as six 6-foot tall players on the court at the same time, Saturday's match was decided at the net.
In what Jamestown Coach Tom Stephenson called the best blocking match of the season for his Eagles, Jamestown logged 16 kills. On the other side of the court, Loudoun County also showcased its proficiency at the net by recording 13 kills of its own.
"I've coached against a lot of teams this year ... and I thought our team tonight looked like the best blocking team in the state, and Loudoun County is right there too," Stephenson said.
Aside from blocks, Loudoun County was also able to elevate and work around the Jamestown blockers on offense. The result was a high-flying offense that logged 53 kills total in the match.
In the opening set, Loudoun County and Jamestown battled closely through the first 22 points with the Raiders sitting on top 12-10. A pair of Jamestown errors on offense helped give Loudoun County some breathing room as the Raiders extended their lead to 19-15.
A block by Ellie Popelka and an ace from Maggie Viniard helped pull Jamestown within one point of Loudoun County at 19-18, but the Raiders were able to take six of the final eight points to claim the opening set.
The second set opened heavily in Loudoun County's favor as the Raiders jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead that prompted Stephenson to call a fast timeout. Out of the break, Loudoun County continued its strong play and eventually held a 6-2 lead.
Slowly but surely, Jamestown clawed its way back into the set thanks to scrappy net play by Viniard and Maria Esch. Despite being undersized against Loudoun County's front line, Viniard still logged five blocks to go with 13 digs for Jamestown.
Trailing 16-12 in the second set, Jamestown logged back-to-back blocks to spark a comeback. The Eagles took six of the next eight points to tie the set at 18-18. With the set tied 22-22, Esch logged two kills over the final three points to help the Eagles tie the match at one set apiece.
Loudoun County and Jamestown played neck-and-neck for the opening points of the third set, sitting tied at 7-7 in the early going. A quick 3-0 run by Loudoun County gave the Raiders a 10-7 lead and forced the Eagles to use a timeout to stop the momentum.
The timeout proved futile as Loudoun County only extended its lead over the coming points. What was a three-point lead for the Raiders ballooned into as much as a six-point lead late in the set. A 4-0 lead by Loudoun County set up the Raiders with set point and a 24-17 lead. Three consecutive points by Jamestown were not enough to stop the Raiders from ultimately taking the third set 25-20.
Jamestown gave one final push to tie the match in the fourth set, playing level volleyball with Loudoun County through the first 18 points of the set. However, the Raiders strung together a crucial 4-0 run to build a 13-9 lead on Jamestown and force the Eagles to use a timeout.
Loudoun County's lead only grew from there. Just seven points later, now trailing 11-18, Jamestown had to burn its final timeout of the set. Much of the fight from the first half of the set seemed to disappear in the second half as Loudoun County leaned on University of North Carolina commit Taylor Borup to help the Raiders close out the set 25-18 and secure the state championship victory.
The outcome of the match was a tough pill to swallow for Stephenson, who has guided Jamestown (25-4) to five consecutive state tournament appearances without a title to show for it. The same went for Jamestown's seniors, who leave without a state title to their name despite loads of talent over the years.
"All four years I've been here our goal was to win a state championship," Jamestown senior Madison Spence said. "We've had the talent every year. This is one of the best years we've had with team chemistry and just the talent on here. It's definitely disappointing, but you can't walk off the court disappointed because we left everything we had out here."
Loudoun County def. Jamestown 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 25-18
Loudoun County: Taylor Borup (22 digs, 16 kills, 4 assists, 3 blocks), Rachael Cullen (26 digs), Andersen Vaughan (23 assists, 7 digs)
Jamestown: Gen Allison (21 digs, 2 assists), Maria Esch (28 digs, 16 kills, 3 blocks), Ellie Popelka (11 kills, 9 blocks, 2 digs), Maggie Viniard (38 assists, 13 digs, 5 blocks, 2 aces)