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Valley reaches state volleyball final

Whew. It was quite the night at VCU's Siegel Center on Thursday as both metro area teams advanced to Saturday's state final.

In the first half of the double-header, South County watched a 2 sets to 0 lead melt away against Frank W. Cox only to storm back from a deficit in the decisive fifth set to take the match, 28-26, 25-19, 18-25, 23-25, 17-15.

Simone Antwi - the Stallions' 6-2 junior middle - was an absolute beast all night, leading her team to the first state title game in any sport in school history.

Their opponent?

Well, after Loudoun Valley stormed to a victory in the opening set, Mills Godwin battled back to knot the score with a 25-23 victory in the second. The Vikings trailed most of the way through the third set but took eight of the final nine points and clinched the set on senior setter Nicole Bennett's perfectly placed shot in the back left corner of the court.

But once again, the Eagles rallied. Behind a flurry of kills from 5-foot-6 senior outside hitter Maggie Murphy, the team from Richmond led 22-20 and appeared poised to force a fifth set. The Vikings were up to the task. Bennett varied her sets, hooking up with senior right side Meredith Bland for a pair of late kills. Following an ace from senior libero Kristen Martin to give the Vikings match point, Mills Godwin tied the score once again. But another Valley senior, middle hitter Lindsay Phipps, blocked home a winner and the Eagles mishandled Morgan Clark's service on match point to send the Vikes back to the state final for the first time since 2004, 25-19, 23-25, 25-21, 26-24.

Balance was the key on this night as various hitters came through in the clutch when the Eagles keyed on Clark and Phipps. When junior defensive specialist Brittany Brown went out with a rolled ankle late in the third game, the Vikings got a boost from yet another player off the bench in junior Whitney Jenkins who stepped in and didn't miss a beat.

Leading the Vikings:
Nicole Bennett - 51 assists
Lindsay Phipps - 15 kills
Morgan Clark - 22 kills

So here's what Saturday looks like so far...

South County vs. Loudoun Valley, 2:30 p.m.

Loudoun County is in action Friday at 4 p.m. against Cave Spring in the first half of the AA semifinal double-header.

If you're looking for an early breakdown of the AAA final, here's the basis of my scouting report. In Antwi, South County has one of those players who you can spend all week game-planning to stop and then somehow, no matter what you do, she still finds a way to beat you. With her and Lindsay Stephens up from - 6-2 and 6-1 respectively - the Stallions have one of the most explosive one-two punches in the state. That said, the Vikings have a pair of vicious hitters themselves in Clark and Phipps, as well as significantly more balance all around. Valley also has the edge in experience, having reached the state quarters last year while the Stallions surpassed the best result in program history long ago. This should be a great final.

Look for a full recap of both matches in Friday's Post, but here are a few quotes from Valley that came after deadline...

Laird Johnson
"We made some changes in the middle of the game. They forced us to have to make some defensive adjustments, to particularly counter (Murphy). It took us a few points to get everybody on the right page and when we were able to get everybody on the right page, our back line began digging up the little blocks from her and I think that frustrated them a little bit, but it gave us a lot of energy. We were able to put the ball back on the post and in the middle and got some big points off of it."

Lindsay Phipps
"I got down a couple times in the middle games, and that's something that I've always struggled with. But I have to bring myself back up and the girls get me back up, too. Those kills that I hit out, I just kind of had to shake off. I was down for a minute, but then I got right back in it and I just tried to come out as strong as I can the next ball to show them that's not going to happen again."

Kristen Martin
"We knew that we had to play with heart tonight. When you get to this level, fundamentals - everyone has the fundamentals, everyone knows the basic skills of volleyball, everyone knows that they need to play smart to win. But when it comes out, it's the team that plays with the most heart, who makes the hustle plays that are needed, who gets to balls that you don't think you can ever get to, and who puts balls down. When we were down a few points in those games, we knew that we had to tighten it up and that we were here to win tonight, and we were not going to let anything get in our way. Our thing before we came on the court tonight was no regrets, and we left with no regrets tonight."

"I love defense. I'd much rather play defense than attack. I'm like the man behind the curtain, and I like that. I like to get the balls up and I'm there for Nicole when sometimes you need to mix it up a little bit back row, and that's something we work on, but I haven't really played outside since freshman year."

Nicole Bennett
"A lot of teams know about Morgan and know about Lindsay. They've been working their blocks - Morgan likes to go line, let's block her line - and Morgan has done a really good job adjusting to that. But those hitters have really stepped up, like Sarah Malsch and Meredith Bland, they both played amazing tonight and were there whenever we needed to run the slide or we needed to run the two. It makes my job a lot easier when I have weapons everywhere that I can go to."

By Matt Brooks  |  November 20, 2009; 12:02 AM ET
Categories:  Loudoun Valley High School , VHSL , Volleyball  
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Next: Live blogging from Va. Volleyball state semis

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