South Riding, Va. — When the Freedom High School volleyball team entered the VHSL Region 5C tournament as the overall No. 6 seed, they knew they had an uphill climb. The Eagles had put together an impressive regular season but tallied four losses in the competitive Potomac District, putting themselves in a hole to start the postseason.
However, five matches into the truncated playoff schedule, the Eagles found themselves in a brand new position: hosting the VHSL 5A State championship game.
“We ended the regular season on back-to-back losses. After we beat J.R. Lewis in the first round of the region tournament, we turned around and had to beat the two teams that beat us at the end of the regular season,” Freedom head coach Will Davis said. “We beat Riverside, who we hadn’t beat all season, then we beat Rock Ridge, who came to our house and beat us 3-2 to end the regular season. The girls felt really inspired in that moment to go the distance.”
Riding a four-game winning streak, Freedom was eyeing the final prize with an opportunity to bring home the first state title in program history. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their historic season came to a close as state runners up as the Hickory Hawks made the more than 200-mile trip north to South Riding, where they swept Freedom—25-13, 25-21, 25-20—to claim the VHSL Class 5 State championship.
“This is the first time any volleyball team from Chesepeake is bringing home a state championship trophy,” Hickory head coach Gus Quinones said. “For us, for our players, they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Hickory opened the first set on a defensive rampage as freshman middle Dominique Gray put on a blocking clinic to get the Hawks out to an early 9-4 lead. Gray’s effort put Hickory in the driver’s seat for the entire first set as they rolled past Freedom, 25-13.
The Hawks jumped out to another lead in set two, but the Eagles wouldn’t let them pull away this time around. Led by junior hitter Halie Murphy, senior hitter Haley Adams, and junior setter Kaitlyn Sourinhong, Freedom clawed their way right back into the game, before eventually tying things up at 17-all in the second.
From there, however, Hickory turned on the afterburners as senior outside Sydney Love led her team on a 7-2 run to take a 24-19 lead, before putting Freedom away, 25-21.
“Every time we thought we had an answer for them, they made an adjustment,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, we played all three sets from behind, and that’s a difficult situation to be in for an entire match.”
Love came out firing on all cylinders again to start the third, helping the Hawks jump out to a 10-4 lead. A few key digs from Love and fellow seniors Ashley Capilongo and Grace Williams as well as a few monster kills by Love and sophomore hitter Rayne Manning was simply too much for the Eagles as the Hawks completed the sweep, 25-20.
Throughout the season, Freedom battled different challenges thrown at them, including playing under the bizarre circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the end, the Eagles made an incredible playoff run, including a trip to their first ever VHSL 5A State championship game.
“During our four regular season losses, we were trying to get the job done one person at a time, but during the playoff run, we finally started playing together as a team,” Davis said. “Our girls put everything out there; they put their hearts in every play. I’m so proud of them.”