By Owen Gotimer
Leesburg (August 26, 2015) – Playing the reigning state champion is never an easy feat especially when that state champion has won a state title in seven of the last eight seasons. Also that reigning state champion happens to be your crosstown rival – who in your program’s five year history has never dropped any of its 30 sets to you. And oh, by the way, it’s the first match of your 2015 season.
That’s the picture the Tuscarora High School volleyball team faced when it met Loudoun County High School in the first match of both teams’ seasons in Leesburg on August 25.
“It makes us jump into the season more quickly. It gets us more ready for the games to come,” Tuscarora head coach Meghan Puckli said. “We know we’re in a tough conference, and we have a lot of tough games on our schedule. I feel like this is the best way to start our season to see what we really need to work on.”
While the Lady Raiders jumped out to an early one set lead and eventually defeated the Huskies (25-10, 24-26, 25-13, 25-17), Tuscarora accomplished something it never had before: won a single set against the Loudoun County Raiders.
“I think mentally we just weren’t getting down on ourselves which is really important. We know we can compete with good teams,” Puckli said. “We’re really young this year. We’re figuring things out, but I’m really excited about this season. These girls have shown – in the three weeks that we’ve been working with them – how much they can grow and how quickly they can grow, so I think we’ll have a great season.”
Now leading the all-time rivalry with Tuscarora 11-0, Loudoun County has once again been tabbed the team-to-beat – not only in LoCo but – in the entire state of Virginia for 2015.
“Everyone starts 0-0, and we talked about that before the match. It’s anybody’s game,” Loudoun County head coach Sherrilyn Hanna said. “Anytime we show up on a court, we know we’ve got big targets on our backs, and we’ve got to play. It doesn’t matter what happened last year, we’ve got to prove ourselves this year.”
Hanna noted her team’s biggest challenge this season will be their youth and hopes the team can find a way to mesh on the court this fall.
“We graduated some really good solid players. We basically had eight kids on the court last year and five of those were seniors. It’s a young team, and they have to learn how to play together,” Hanna said. “Obviously we have Taylor Borup, Rachel Voketaitis and Rachael Cullen returning, and they were key components of last year’s squad.”
Borup – who is certainly one of the best players in the state and arguably one of the best players in the country – will need to step up to the plate this year as a leader, filling the void left by the Raiders’ seven 2014 graduates.
“She’s a great player. I’m glad she’s on my side and not on the opposing side,” Hanna said. “She can really get the ball put away, but we can’t always depend on that. We’ve got to mix it up and have other kids stepping up. If the opponents know the ball is always going to Taylor, that’s easier to defend: not easy, but easier.”
Another key component Hanna mentioned was senior hitter Abby Wright who will serve as another leader in 2015.
“The younger kids have watched us win each year, and they might not realize what goes into that. They don’t necessarily grasp that we can lose,” Wright said. “We have to come out with the right mindset every day. We’ll have down days, but when we do, we have to remember that every other team is giving us their best day. We have to be ready for that.”
Loudoun County lost only 13 sets last season and swept its way to the VHSL 4A state crown, but Wright emphasized that this year will have a different feeling because of the Raiders’ youth.
“I think it was a good practice for the younger players to get their nerves out: beginning of the season, first varsity game for some of them,” Wright said. “It was definitely a good game to expose some of the things we need to work on, but we’ll be ready for the next game.”
Hanna echoed Wright and made it clear that while you have to take it day by day, everyone knows her team’s season-long goal.
“It’s one day at a time. You know there’ll be hiccups along the way, but how you weather those determines the outcome of the season,” Hanna said. “We have high hopes, and we’re working hard every day to make that happen.”
Loudoun County Stats:
Taylor Borup 24 kills, 3 blocks, 7 digs, 5 service points, 2 aces
Hannah Aycock 8 kills, 2 digs
Rachel Voketaitis 7 kills, 1 assist
Sela Carrington 5 kills, 1 block
Lauren Topper 5 kills, 4 digs
Abby Wright 4 kills, 1 block, 3 service points, 1 ace
Lindsay Olzawski 3 kills, 2 blocks
Logan Robberstad 2 kills, 17 assists, 5 digs, 18 service points, 3 aces
Andersen Vaughan 1 kill, 23 assists, 5 digs, 6 service points, 1 ace
Rachael Cullen 1 kill, 4 assists, 11 digs, 1 service point
Ashley Rubino 1 block
Kaitlyn Nguyen 5 assists, 1 dig, 2 service points
Rebecca Frey 5 digs, 7 service points, 2 aces
Josi Williams 1 dig, 10 service points, 4 aces
Hannah Sauer 1 service point, 1 ace