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Virginia Volleyball Notebook

Chancellor Overcomes Injuries to Claim 11th Straight District Title

When senior outside hitter Seth Sullivan had surgery to repair a stretched posterior cruciate ligament last spring, Chancellor volleyball coach Mike Carneal knew his team would have to step up to retain their spot atop the AA Battlefield District. But after a 1-3 start against top tier AAA programs, the Chargers reeled off six straight wins to take control of the league race heading into a matchup with Courtland.

Then came more bad news. During a sweep of the Cougars, Chancellor lost junior Mia Fortune for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.

“It was going to be a telling tale of, Can we step up from this?,” Carneal said. “[Fortune] was our second leader in kills and first in blocks when she got injured. But we’ve had different kids step up and take leadership roles.”

Despite position shifts in a lineup that lost four starters from 2008 and featured three sophomores and a freshman, the Chargers (16-3), haven’t skipped a beat, rolling to 15 consecutive wins – including 13 straight sweeps. With a 14-0 mark in the district, they locked up an 11th consecutive league title and earned a spot in the Region I playoffs.

Now Sullivan is back in the fold, bolstering a deeper, more experienced group with multiple setting options. After starting in the back row two weeks ago to ease her way back into the lineup, Sullivan made her first start at her natural outside position Tuesday in a 25-10, 25-15, 25-13 win over Culpeper, a victory that sealed a perfect run through the district regular season. Her return provides a significant boost to the Chargers’ chances of reaching a third straight state tournament.

“With all the injuries we’ve had, it’s a big step for us to be where we are,” Carneal said. “But getting back to the regional finals is going to come down to everybody playing together, and Seth being back is really going to help.”

Flu Hits Concorde District Hard

Two weeks ago, Oakton was gearing up for the two biggest matches of its season — Concorde District contests against Robinson and Chantilly in a three-day span that had major tournament implications.

The Cougars were 14-2, in the midst of the best season in program history and looking to rebound from an uncharacteristically sloppy loss at Herndon. But one day before the Robinson match, several of coach Steve Drumm's key players came down with flu-like symptoms. Their absence left Oakton's lineup without its starting middle and outside hitters. Severely depleted and overmatched, the Cougars fell in a humbling 25-5, 25-9, 25-17 defeat. Two nights later, they traveled to Chantilly for a similar result that dropped them to 1-3 in the district and may have dashed their hopes of hosting a first-round district tournament match.

Juliane Hanna and Loudoun County need to beat Broad Run to force a playoff for the Dulles District regular season title. (John McDonnell, TWP)

"It's going to be a rough stretch," Drumm said heading into the Robinson match. "We know everything comes down to how you play in the tournament in our league anyway, so we're just hoping to have everyone back and healthy by then."

This week it was Herndon's turn to deal with the affects of the flu as they struggled to scrape past Jefferson without the services of three starters - including both team captains.

Cedar Run Field is Set

With Loudoun Valley's sweep of Heritage last week, the Vikings wrapped up the Cedar Run regular season title. In years past, that meant little as the league only crowned the winner of the district tournament as its champion. With the district trimmed to five teams in 2009, they changed the rules, meaning the Vikings (15-4) have automatically qualified for the Northwest Region tournament regardless of how they finish in next week's tournament.

With one game left on the schedule, the field is already set for the district tournament, which begins Tuesday and features only a semifinal round and the final. The Vikings host fourth-seeded Osbourn while Heritage and Battlefield face off in the other semifinal. The winners will meet in Thursday's final.

The Vikings enter as the favorites, having won 11 consecutive matches following a 3-4 start to the season. The key to the turnaround may have been coach Laird Johnson's switch from a 6-2 to a 5-1 offense, which coincided with the return of starting setter Nicole Bennett from injury. Since making the switch, Valley is unbeaten.

"You lose the big right side blocker when you go to a 5-1," Johnson said. "But we've gained a lot of consistency in timeing and sets. It took the girls a little while to get adjusted to it, but they've really played well."

Dulles District Title Goes on the Line Thursday

Loudoun County has been itching to get back on the court since a stunning five-set loss to Broad Run on Oct. 6. Since that loss, the No. 4 Raiders (17-2) have trampled their Dulles District opposition, keeping pace with the Spartans, who have done the same to remain unbeaten atop the league.

Thursday night, the Raiders get their rematch in Ashburn where they'll try to force a playoff for the district title. Meanwhile, the Spartans will be looking to win it outright and end Loudoun County's stretch of dominance over the league.

The key for Broad Run in the first meeting was starting strong - which they were able to do in winning the first and third games. The Spartans (13-4) also served exceptionally well, especially in the decisive fifth game when they rallied from a 12-7 deficit to win the match.

The Raiders, meanwhile, were sloppy at times and didn't get the typical star-caliber effort they're used to seeing from senior outside hitter Juliane Hanna. There will no doubt be plenty of energy and intensity in the gym on Thursday night, in what should be a preview of the district, and perhaps the Region II, tournament finals.

By Matt Brooks  |  October 28, 2009; 5:53 PM ET
Categories:  Broad Run , Chancellor , Herndon , Loudoun County High School , Loudoun Valley High School , Oakton , Volleyball  
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