After falling behind two sets to start their match against the Centreville Wildcats in the Concorde District semifinals, the Oakton High volleyball team mounted a comeback to win three straight sets to advance to the title game.
In regular season play, the Wildcats handed the Cougars their only district loss of the season. On Thursday, the Cougars set out to prove the loss an anomaly.
"We wanted to win this game. It was all I could think about today in school ... We wanted to show that the last time we played we weren't our best, that we could beat them. I don't think they were even satisfied beating us because they knew we played bad," said Abby Mills, a co-captain, who hit a career-high in kills, assists, aces and digs with 20, 6, 4 and 11, respectively, for her first career double-double. "It kind of felt like we were in the district finals. Both teams just wanted to play."
But the game did not run smoothly for the Cougars, as the Wildcats earned decisive 25-21 and 25-18 wins in the first two sets. In the third set, the No. 4 Wildcats had a 23-20 lead when Coach Dan Courain called his second timeout of the set for his top-seeded Cougars.
"The turning point for me came after that timeout. I yelled at them a little more than I'm used to, it's not really my style," Courain said. "Then we [messed up] a pass and Misa [Mori] went diving after it. She didn't get it, they got the point, but it was the first time I saw one of us going full speed."
After Mori's dive, Mills tipped a point over the net then took over serving duties for the Cougars with the score at 24-21. With the Wildcats at match point, Mills knew she and her team were a sideout away from elimination.
"As soon as I went back to serve I was like, 'This is it. If I don't get my serves in, we're done.' I could tell the team was pulling off that momentum and energy to pull through," Mills said.
The Cougars went on a five-point run to win the set and force a fourth. Then they carried that momentum into another set win (25-19), taking an early lead and maintaining it to tie the match 2-2.
"We had so much momentum at the end of that third game, and that pushed us through the fourth game. And then the fourth game's momentum pushed into the fifth game," Mills said. "We started off slow, but once we got going we weren't going to stop."
And so they didn't. After falling behind 0-3 to start the set, the Cougars went on a six-point run to take a solid lead and never look back — propelling them to the Concorde District Championship for the second consecutive year and third time in school history.
Courain hopes the girls learned a lesson from their slow start that almost led to their demise.
"We were running at half-speed," Courain said. "You can blame a lot of things — the break from the hurricane, the 5 o'clock game time, the small crowd because of the early start time — but none of it matters ... We've got to play no matter the circumstances, and a lot of that is on us as coaches. I want them to know they have to come out full speed. If we come out slow like that, give them a chance on game point on game three, they're going to probably put it down. I don't want to try to survive another one of those again."
The Cougars will face the Robinson Rams in the title game 4 p.m. Saturday at Centreville High School. In the Cougars' only match against the Rams, the Cougars came out on top with a 3-2 final score.
With a win Saturday, the Cougars would not only make last year's 3-1 loss to Chantilly in the title game a distant memory, but also give the volleyball program its first title in school history.
"We want 2012 on that banner in the gym. I dream about it. I'm not even kidding," Mills said. "We've said it all year. We want it so bad."
- Karina Nyman recorded her 100th kill of the season, Misa Mori recorded her 200th dig of the season.
- Emma Olson moved into fourth place on the all-time kill list passing Kailey Flanigan (2007). Flanigan had 355 kills and Olson now has 366 kills.
- Olson also set a new season record for most assists in a season with 603. She passed her own record of 598, which she set in 2010.
Abby Mills: 20 (career high)
Misa Mori: 14
Emma Olson: 13
Bri Goodwin: 6
Karina Nyman: 6
Emma Olson: 44 (season high)
Abby Mills: 6 (career high)
Abby Mills: 4 (career high)
Kara Sadosuk: 4 (career high)
Emma Olson: 3
Misa Mori: 3
Misa Mori: 26 (career high)
Kara Sadosuk: 24 (career high)
Abby Mills: 11 (career high)
Mikayla Turner: 8
Emma Olson: 7
Abby Mills: 2
Karina Nyman: 2