Leesburg, Va. — For most high school student-athletes, playing in a state championship game is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But, for the girls who play volleyball at Loudoun County High School, it has become more of a routine.
Despite the expectation they’ve created for themselves to not only play in, but win, a state championship every season, the opportunity to play in a game of that magnitude isn’t any less exciting and winning one isn’t any less memorable.
And that couldn’t have been more true as the Captains won their ninth straight volleyball state title—this one a VHSL 4A State title over Grafton (25-19, 25-10, 27-25) on April 23 in Leesburg.
“This one’s super special to me being a senior and leading my team to the victory,” Loudoun County senior hitter Alicia McCandless said. “It also felt great to have a home crowd and get to play on our home court which we feel comfortable playing on.”
McCandless joins an exclusive club of student-athletes who have won not one, not two, not three, but four state championships during their high school careers, having been a member of the Captains varsity volleyball team since 2017.
McCandless’ experience certainly paid dividends as she rallied her team to help stunt any momentum Grafton had late in the third quarter. After a kill helped even things out for the Captains late in the third, McCandless went to the service line with the game tied 25-25.
“Her experience was huge, there’s no doubt about it,” Loudoun County head coach John Senchak said. “She came in and gave us a huge kill late in the third set and that’s where that experience paid off. She knew late in the set the line is what she wanted and that’s what she went after.”
Loudoun County scored on her first serve, setting up championship point, 26-25. McCandless took a deep breath and sent her second serve over the net, where a diving Grafton defender couldn’t complete the pass, as the Captains captured the title on a McCandless ace.
“I knew I needed to find a spot on the court that was empty and get it there, so I could score a point for my team,” McCandless said. “The ball was in my control, and I just wanted to bare down and win those points for my team.”
Playing beside McCandless for a good amount of the season was fellow senior Ella Solomon. However, Solomon’s journey to state championship glory took a different route than McCandless’.
Solomon helped the Tuscarora Huskies to a VHSL 5A State championship her freshman year in 2017 but having been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease sat out her sophomore and junior seasons. Solomon transferred to Loudoun County High School in 2018, where she spent her sophomore and junior years at home with an instructor because she couldn’t get out of bed.
Prior to her senior year, however, Solomon was finally feeling well enough to return to in-person learning—and despite caution with the COVID-19 pandemic—was finally able to don the navy and gold at Loudoun County.
Three years after her first state championship win and even more years since she began her battle with CLD, Solomon was once again able to hoist a state championship banner—this one with the Captains.
“You saw Ella’s emotion coming out of her at the end of the match,” Senchak said. “She’s been down with Lyme disease for two-and-a-half years. Her heart drove her tonight more than her experience.”
After a long journey back to where she wanted to be physically and mentally—and despite not having suited up for Loudoun County until this season—Solomon knew exactly what they meant every time they said “it’s great to be a County Captain.”
“I just show up into the gym every single game and prove to the other team what Loudoun County volleyball is all about.”