ALBEMARLE — The Albemarle volleyball team never saw it coming, never even had time to contemplate the idea of losing.
That’s how close the Patriots were Saturday afternoon to adding another championship trinket to their overflowing trophy case.
The Patriots just don’t lose at home. It hardly ever happens. Trace the program back to 1981 and Albemarle has won 16 district championships and four regional titles. They are what is known in sports circles as a dynasty.
“I’ve never played them when they haven’t played well,” Forest Park coach Dan Jones said.
Jones knows from experience how hard it is to win at Albemarle. He put together pretty formidable teams the past two years at Forest Park and the Bruins never once beat the Patriots.
“They are certainly the measuring stick in our region every year,” he said.
Gauging his team’s potential was essentially what Jones had in mind Saturday when another talented Bruins squad with championship aspirations made the two-hour trip to the outskirts of Charlottesville and took another swing at altering history.
“This is the hurdle we haven’t been able to get over,” assistant coach Rob Gaither explained as the Bruins warmed up for the finals. “This would be a big one for us.”
It was beyond big. Saturday’s 15-6, 10-15, 15-13 victory over Albemarle at the annual Powerhouse Tournament was the type of monumental triumph that elevates programs to another level. The Bruins are already the premier squad in Prince William County, but their reach stretches beyond their own border now.
“This is the most competitive group of girls I’ve ever had,” Jones said. “Whether it’s practice, a Tuesday or Thursday match, or a tournament, they go after whoever’s on the other side of the net.”
The Bruins went after four opponents Saturday as if there was much more at stake than a first-place plaque.
In a sense there was. After graduating the two star players — Abby Hatter and Megan Gross — who helped start the program in 2000, Forest Park was curious to discover how close its new 12-player rotation is to becoming a state-level contender. For those who were not there to witness the historic event, the Bruins officially announced their arrival with four emphatic triumphs.
“We lost here two years in a row and basically we used that for motivation,” said junior outside hitter Marisa Gross, who had 14 kills in the championship match and was named to the all-tournament team along with senior setter/outside hitter Ali Krieger.
“Just because we lost our star players didn’t mean we couldn’t do it this year,” Gross said. “Last year we relied on Abby a lot. This year we have the whole package. Everybody can play different positions. We’re more than capable of going farther than we did last year.”
The Bruins aren’t likely to look very far ahead, probably not beyond tonight’s match against reigning Cedar Run District Tournament champion Osbourn Park. But the post-tournament celebration on Saturday did briefly include talk of playing in November.
Check the calendar. The Northwest Region Tournament begins Nov. 5.
“We’re excited,” said the multi-skilled Krieger. “This team can go really far.”
Krieger’s versatility is typical of this Bruins squad. She can hit, set, serve and pass. Forest Park has 11 other players just like her and they all contribute. That is the main reason the 2002 club is already being referred to as the best in team history.
“Everybody has a job and they do it well. We’re all hustlers,” said senior setter Valerie Ball, who had five aces in the title match. “Everybody has the heart to win. We push ourselves hard every match.”
The Bruins weren’t truly pushed until they reached the finals on Saturday. Forest Park took the court to begin pool play with a guarantee of playing four matches. The Bruins wanted to win them all.
With a rotation that featured four middle hitters, two setters and a half dozen outside hitters, Forest Park swept E.C. Glass (15-4, 15-4, 15-5) and Franklin County (15-8, 15-7, 16-14) before routing a power-hitting Robinson team in the semifinals (15-6, 15-3, 15-5).
In addition to depth, the Bruins showcased a diverse offense that featured back-row spikes and a jump serve from Gross, cross-court hits and back sets from Krieger, and outstanding serving from Ball and junior Megan Carroll. Senior Pam Allen and sophomore Sarah Floyd shared the outside with junior Ashleigh Holt, Gross, Krieger, Carroll and junior Katie Wolter.
In the middle, Forest Park has filled Hatter’s spot with a four-player rotation that features 6-foot senior Jessica O’Neal, junior Missy Deardorff, senior Natasha Scott and junior Brenan Richards.
O’Neal and Deardorff are both first-year starters and on Saturday they combined for nine kills and five blocks against Albemarle.
“Everybody on the team can hit, except me I guess,” said Ball.
Ball’s contributions come at the service line — and on defense.
“Our offense is getting there, but defense has been winning games for us,” Gross said.
Defense and passing were the intangibles that set the Bruins apart from the rest of the field at Albemarle. Wolter, Krieger, Gross, Carroll and Holt came up with just about everything hit their way on the back row.
The Bruins’ success shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to volleyball insiders. The majority of this year’s team played for the Clash during the club season and that extra experience enabled Forest Park to remain competitive even when Albemarle was on the verge of victory.
“We lost really good players, but we have 12 girls on the team this year and any of them can be out there on the court and we’ll do well,” Krieger said. “We had so much energy. We were excited to come here and win.”
EVANGEL CHRISTIAN SWEEPS LEESBURG
Eighth-graders Jamie Arndt and Jill Lee combined for seven aces Monday afternoon as Evangel Christian swept Leesburg Christian for its ninth consecutive victory.
Arndt, playing in her second varsity match, contributed seven service points, while Lee had nine points in a 15-7, 15-3 win.
Lindsey Rizzo had a big day from the service line with nine points, while middle hitter Katie Oakes delivered seven kills. Setter Terri Slade had eight assists.