GOOCHLAND – Everything was clicking. Everyone was in sync.
A tough Independence team - seeded sixth for the Region 3B tournament but facing very strong competition across its regular-season schedule - had battled its way past no. 3 Skyline and no. 2 George Mason in straight sets to take on tournament host Goochland for the regional crown.
But the Bulldogs, who this year moved up from Class 2 to Class 3, showed why they had earned the first seed, won 20 games to that point and laid claim to the right to host all the way up to that final round.
They honed in on incoming attacks, speeding to the fringes and shallow spaces and making the successful dives. They kept the Tigers off-balance with their versatile serving and attacking approaches.
“We just continued talking – continued working together; the girls were really communicating well tonight,” said Goochland coach Rachel Jacobsen. “They did a really good job of blocking and covering and they were all over the place.”
That dynamic team effort propelled the Goochland Bulldogs to the 2019 Region 3B girls volleyball championship over Independence in straight-sets (25-17, 25-13, 25-21). The win secured home-court advantage for Goochland in Saturday's Class 3 state quarterfinals.
“This is an amazing feeling – I love that we get to play at home Saturday,” said senior Libero Ellie Spencer, who racked up 20 digs on another standout defensive effort. “We had a big crowd today, and that’s really what’s carrying us and helping us and they’re giving us the support that we need and love.”
Goochland assembled quick starts of 12-4, 9-2 and 6-2 across the three sets; in each one, the Tigers at one point got close – they trailed 17-15 in the first and 10-9 in the second and tied the third at 9-all.
But the Bulldogs had an answer each time. They assembled a five-point run to break the 9-9 tie for good in the third set. Independence fell behind 11-9 in the second set after four players touched the ball before returning it, and then the Bulldogs, with Spencer serving, rocketed out to an 18-9 advantage.
And in the first, the Bulldogs’ run to expand their lead to 22-15 featured one of the wildest rallies of the match. It found life when Spencer, aided by a clutch defensive touch from Ilaria Russell, managed to chase the ball down all the way near the wall and punch it all the way over to the opposing court. Spencer in that same point made a diving save as the ball bounced back-and-forth between the two teams.
Nicole Brown ended the rally to win the point for Goochland. The freshman totaled 3 kills and 4 blocks against Independence.
“Last year we had to work on her not going after everything, but tonight it really came in handy,” Jacobsen said. “She was all over them blocking-wise; her hands were in the air the whole time.”
Brown credits her teammates for why she did so well.
“They’re always encouraging me,” Brown said, “and even if I mess up, they tell me what to do right, and I fix it.”
The Bulldogs had several heavy hitters they could call upon. Senior middle Mary King delivered 7 kills while sisters Trinity and Nova Wonderling each made 6. Taylor Michaels finished-off a thrilling rally to earn Goochland a point at 16-9 in the first set. Freshman Nina Smith delivered a kill into the corner to give her team an 18-15 first-set lead after Independence strung together 5 straight points. Senior Rachel Carter set up match point on a well-placed kill into the corner. And sophomore Blair Bussells, utilizing the short serve, delivered 3 aces. Leading the Bulldogs in assists were Bussells with 11 and Trinity with 10.
Goochland also kept its unforced error count low in comparison to the Tigers.
“They came in prepared,” Jacobsen said of her players. “They knew what their goal was and they knew what they needed to do to get there.”
Having won the Region 3B title as well as their 21st straight match to still remain unbeaten in 2019, the Bulldogs turn their attention to the state quarterfinals, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 16 (7 p.m.) at Goochland High School.
“I honestly think that at each game, our energy has grown,” Spencer said. “Each time we get more pumped, more energized, and that’s honestly what’s pushing us to make it to states. We have the skill, we have the talent – we do have a lot of raw talent in Goochland County – and really it’s our energy that has kept us going this far.”
“I knew they had it in them,” Jacobsen said of her players. “I’m just glad to see them actually be able to go and do what they set out to do. I’m excited for them.”