Wildcats win second straight regional volleyball title
FRONT ROYAL – Cross another item off the Warren County volleyball team’s to-do list.
The Wildcats, last season’s VHSL Class 3 state runner-up, entered the 2018 season trying to match their historic campaign and then some, and on Tuesday night they took another step toward that goal by winning their second straight Region 3B championship.
Like last season, Tuesday’s title-winning performance came against fellow Northwestern District member Manassas Park. Also like 2017, Warren County’s championship came in a 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-20) sweep.
“It means the world,” Wildcats senior middle hitter Lauren Fox said. “For a lot of us, this is our last season, and to come out here with our friends that we’ve been playing with since seventh grade and just to have fun and get to have this accomplishment is fantastic. A lot of girls don’t get to experience this, and now we get to experience it for two years.”
Tuesday’s win was the third of the season over the Cougars (13-8-2) for Warren County (20-3), which carries a 19-match winning streak into Friday’s home state quarterfinal match with Southampton at 6 p.m. It was also the most challenging.
The Cougars, led by all-state senior Yanira Lopez’s 25 kills, made Warren County work for its second-ever regional title and held a late lead in each of the first two sets.
“We knew coming in what we were getting,” Wildcats head coach Dorinda Robinson said. “We beat them last year, so we knew that they wanted to redeem themselves, a little revenge or whatever. … We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. They pushed us. They pushed us hard.”
Warren County survived even with star hitter Kaley Foulks — who tallied her 1,000th career kill in last week’s regional semifinal win over James Monroe — having an uncharacteristically average night on the court. The senior still finished with 10 kills, but Foulks also committed seven attack errors and missed three serves and had to find most of her offensive success tipping shots over and around Manassas Park’s blocks.
Fox and junior Brianna Hogan picked up the slack for the Wildcats and took turns rallying Warren County from late deficits in the first and second sets. Fox finished with 14 kills to lead the Wildcats, while Hogan added 11.
“You can’t just win with one player and I think having that versatility shows that we are well-rounded and we have some good skill,” said Fox, who added that Foulks (15 digs) played a strong back-row game in lieu of her see-saw offensive night. “It definitely makes games like this a lot easier when you know you have other people that can step up.”
It was Fox whom the Wildcats turned to late in the first set. After taking a timeout trailing 20-18 in game one, Warren County tied the set on a Cougar service error and a Foulks ace. Wildcats senior setter Morgan Coons (36 assists) then repeatedly fed Fox, who smashed five kills over the final eight points of the game to give Warren County a 25-23 win and a 1-0 lead.
“I have all the faith in Morgan and she knows just when to put the set, where and to who,” said Fox, who had eight of her 14 kills in that opening set. “Coming in, Morgan said that it wasn’t Kaley’s night, that I had to be there, and I knew I needed to do that for my team.”
Hogan, whom Robinson said played a “beautiful” match, played the role of catalyst in the second set, which Warren County trailed 18-14 before rallying again. Three kills by Fox in a 6-point span helped the Wildcats tie the game first at 19-all and then 20-all, and back-to-back kills from Hogan gave Warren County a 2-point lead and forced a Manassas Park timeout.
Another Hogan kill 2 points later gave Warren County game point, and after the Cougars rallied to cut the Wildcats lead to one, Hogan rifled her sixth kill of the set off Lopez’s block attempt to cap the 25-23 win.
“I think it was the energy of everyone,” Hogan said of the Wildcats’ rallies. “The energy helped us a lot.
“We were a little flat. We were in a hole sometimes and then we picked it up,” she added. “I think in the third set we just had a good game.”
Manassas Park, which opened each set with leads of 3, 5 and 3 points, led 7-4 in game three before Warren County recovered to take a 13-10 lead behind two kills from Fox and one each from Coons and Jayda Saulsbury in a 5-point span.
The Cougars did rally to tie the set at 13 but Warren County eventually opened up a 19-15 lead and never led by fewer than 2 points the rest of the way. Lopez had eight kills for Manassas Park in the final game but committed two attack errors down the stretch that helped the Wildcats put the match away.
“She’s awesome but she was getting tired at the end, you could tell,” Robinson said of Lopez, who had 25 of the Cougars’ 31 kills. “All those balls coming to her, she’s bound to get tired. We kept hitting at her, making her make plays. She was on the floor a lot.”
Friday’s state quarterfinal match against Southampton, the Region 3A runner-up, is a rematch of last season’s state semifinal, which Warren County won on the road to reach its first-ever state championship match.
“It means a lot,” Hogan said of Tuesday’s win. “We want to do the same as last year and make it all happen again, hopefully get another banner for states.”