For all the schools involved, it’s a perfect way to fine tune against solid out-of-district opponents. With each of the eight teams invited playing five best of three matches for six hours, the 22nd annual Albemarle Invitational, its was the one private school invited, Liberty-Christian Academy that walked out with the first place trophy after winning a long hard three game battle with Western Albemarle, 2-1.
“We’ve been practicing a lot on defense and today was probably the best day I’ve ever seen these girls play,” said Bulldogs coach Lara Bartolomeo. “We kind of came together today and starting communicating and doing the things that we hadn’t been doing before.”
The Warriors won the first game of the championship match before falling in the second. The third and final required extra points, and at 25-24, Western had a chance to serve for match point, however LCA turned it around at the last minute to win 28-26.
“We got to play the four best teams in this tournament,” said Warriors coach Lance Rogers. “I feel like when you come into this tournament you come in as a lump of coal and walk out a diamond. I saw a lot of great things from this team. They’re young — we’ve got just one senior — and in a pressure environment, they’d played pretty well, so we’re very happy.”
To earn the nod in the final, Western endured another three game struggle, this time with cross-county rival Albemarle with the first and third games being decided by three points or less.
In five matches Western senior Ana Asher had 45 kills and eight blocks. Junior setter Riley Martin finished with 121 assists. Ali Nicholson had 39 digs to go along with 27 kills. Libero Marin Crowder led the team with 42 digs.
Albemarle had a great start to the day as they defeated all three of their preliminary opponents before falling in their last two matches of the day to Western and E.C. Glass. As the host team, Patriots coach Mark Ragland was not only pleased to be able to play five matches without having to travel, but to also put together a fourth place finish with his still young and developing squad.
“There were times that we were mis-firing but I thought it was a pretty good day,” Ragland said. “We’re probably ahead of where we thought we would be right now, but we’ve got the potential to take this team to another level and I think we’re close to doing that.”
Albemarle setter Jessica Block had 53 serves without a miss and amassed 29 service points and 97 assists over five games. Stephanie Strauss had 45 kills and 14 blocks. Megan Napolitano led the Patriots in the tournament with 54 kills and nine aces. Sarah Terlesky put together 42 digs.
Fluvanna County gave Central Virginia three teams in the tournament. The Flucos bounced back from a tough start to finish seventh as they topped Fauquier County in three games in their last match of the day.
“At the end of the day when everyone was tired, this team went out and reclaimed its passion,” said Fluvanna coach Christy Harlowe-Garrett. “We went out in that last match, had fun and remembered why they play volleyball.”
The Warriors, and Flucos will be back to their Jefferson District on Tuesday while Albemarle heads back to Commonwealth play.
Western travels to Louisa County at 7:30 p.m. Fluvanna hosts Monticello at the same time. Albemarle gets a home game against Stafford also at 7:30 p.m.