Albemarle volleyball just couldn’t kick things into overdrive Monday in the Region 5D semifinals.
“We just never hit our third or fourth gear tonight, we played tentative alot and we didn’t take big swings and against a team like that you’ve got to put the ball away,” said Albemarle coach Mark Ragland.
Massaponax took advantage of the Patriots never finding that extra gear and swept Albemarle 3-0 to advance to the region title match and grab a state tournament berth for the first time in program history. They got an authoritative performance by Sarah Corona to get the job done as the senior hitter exploded for 16 kills in the win.
“The girls love to play with energy and after a long bus ride, we really brought really good energy today,” said Massaponax coach Jack Lee. “Our last few matches we’ve just been really, really clean.”
The Panthers’ largely mistake-free brand of volleyball helped end the Jefferson District champions’ season a game away from the state tournament and put a wrap on solid Albemarle careers like Esther Amos, Avani Hopkins, Audrey Sheedy, Kelsey Marks and stalwart libero Bridget Pinnata. Hopkins, for instance, has come on late and gave the Patriots a charge down the stretch.
“She hammered one of the hardest balls we’ve hit all year down the line I think in set two,” Ragland said. “I’m just really proud of her because she’s been one that’s struggled at times this year and she got back in a starting role the last seven or eight matches and done a tremendous job.”
After the Panthers took a 20-15 lead in game one, Albemarle freshman Maya Winterhoff helped spark a rally that got the Patriots within striking distance down just a point at 23-22. But Massaponax closed the door and won 25-22. Game two was similarly nip and tuck, with Albemarle taking an early 3-1 lead but Massaponax asserted itself and built a narrow 21-17 lead. Albemarle cut it to 21-20 but couldn’t claw any closer.
That left the Patriots fighting for their season in game three, and they built a 13-10 advantage. A 5-1 rally by Massaponax gave the Panthers just enough edge, though Adalee Lynch kept coming up with kills to keep Albemarle close before the Patriots struggled in the closing points and fell 25-20.
Albemarle finished with 11 kills each from Amos and Lynch while Hopkins notched eight kills. Winterhoff, who was the first freshman in program history to lead Albemarle in blocks and hitting percentage, notched three blocks on the night. Amos and Chloe Whaley had two blocks apiece. Keira Roach had 32 assists and Pinnata notched 12 digs.
Corona chipped in four blocks of her own as part of a 15-block night for the Panthers as a team. Olivia Nguyen-Dillon was all over the floor on the back line with 13 digs.
Massaponax advanced to the region final and will face North Stafford in the title match.