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Commonwealth Volleyball: Eagles, Patriots renew rivalry
By STEVE FRANZELLO
The Colonial Forge and Albemarle volleyball teams have seen a lot of each other during the last nine years.
During that time, the Eagles and Patriots have met for the Commonwealth District tournament championship seven times.
Today at Albemarle, they’ll go at it again after posting victories in Wednesday’s semifinal round. It will be the top-seeded Patriots’ last appearance before moving to the Jefferson District next year.
“It’s a good rivalry and we have the chance to beat a team that is undefeated and be that one notch,” said Colonial Forge coach Keith Mesa after watching his team turn back pesky North Stafford, 3–1.
The 25–11, 25–17, 22–25, 25–18 victory also earned the second-seeded Eagles their 10th trip under Mesa to the Northwest Region playoffs. On Saturday afternoon, Colonial Forge (20–8) will host a first-round game against an opponent to be determined.
North Stafford (13–9) has a chance to join them in the regional field if it can get by Massaponax in a district third-place playoff game today. The Panthers will host that contest.
“We’re a young team and this has been a growing season for us,” said North Stafford coach Emily Dudenhefer. “But we can make it difficult for teams to run their offense if we block and set like we did tonight.”
After relatively comfortable wins in the first two games on Wednesday, it appeared that the Eagles were going to cruise into the district final against the Patriots.
With middle hitters Hope Kelley (11 kills, eight aces) and Leandra Tranquill (eight kills) leading the way along the front line and setter Brooke Sanders (35 assists) orchestrating the offense, Colonial Forge jumped out to the 2–0 advantage.
In the first game, they trailed 3–0 before Kelley’s back-to-back aces got them in gear. Her final kill in the game put them in front, 19–9, and they never looked back.
The Eagles went up 2–0 with a 25–17 win that featured five ties and five lead changes. Kelley, Sanders and Tranquill were key factors in their success again, as was freshman middle hitter Alinor Thomas, who finished with 11 kills.
“We were doing the things we needed to do,” said Kelley. “But in the third game, [North Stafford] started serving the ball really well, and they didn’t let the ball hit the ground. We kind of struggled in the back row.”
Those struggles really showed in the final stretch of the game, when the Wolverines rallied behind the inspired play of Tiffany Barrett (seven kills), Abby Rosa (three kills, three aces) and Christine Jackson (seven blocks, three digs, three aces).
Down 22–15, North Stafford scored the last 10 points to pull out the 25–22 win. Rosa’s block put the Wolverines in front, 23–22, and then Jackson sealed the win with a service ace.
“It’s all about momentum,” Mesa said. “North Stafford started keying on some of our kids offensively and got their hands on a lot of balls.
“Luckily, we were able to come back. It’s a testament to our kids that they didn’t let the momentum of the third game affect the outcome of the fourth game.”
In the fourth game, the Eagles got the early advantage and never relinquished it. Thomas and Tranquill had a number of well-placed kills to spark a late surge after North Stafford had pulled to within six points (23–17).
“Once we get on a run, it’s like an explosion of runs,” Tranquill said. “This team is really close. We’ve overcome a lot of injuries this year. We want to beat Albemarle so badly. We came so close last time.”
The Patriots handled the Eagles easily in their first meeting this season. But in last week’s rematch, Albemarle had to rally in the fifth game to keep its unbeaten streak and district lead intact.
Mesa knows that his team faces a tall task today against the regular-season district champions, who have won 26 straight games. But he also likes the Eagles’ chances this time.
“Hopefully, we’re a better team now and we’ve proven we can play with them,” Mesa said. “We will have to play really well to beat them, but at the same time, we’re in the regional playoffs and there is no pressure on us. That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
Added Kelley: “It was good to beat the team that beat us for the championship last year [North Stafford]. Now we’re ready to beat Albemarle.”
Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440