In its second straight comeback win of the Concorde District Tournament, the Oakton High volleyball team made school history with its first district title Saturday.
The Cougars defeated the Robinson Rams 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-8) for its 18th win, setting the school record for most wins in a season.
A longtime goal to win a district title, the 2012 Cougars will be the first to have their year on the volleyball banner that hangs in the Oakton High gym — a symbol of how far the program has come in recent years.
"I'm in shock. I'm not sure I'll believe it's for real until I see the number," said Emma Olson, a co-captain and the district's Player of the Year. "There are no words to describe how much this program has evolved into a family. ... We work so hard and we work together. We want to win for each other. We did this not only for us but the seniors of past teams, who also wanted this so much. We did this for any Oakton player who worked their butt off."
Coach Dan Courain, who served as assistant coach for two years before taking the reins as head coach this season, said the girls long ago set the goal to earn the championship that slipped out of their hands in last year's title appearance against the Chantilly Chargers.
"They've become more of a team together. They really bought into the concept that all 13, and the freshman we called up, are necessary to be successful," Courain said. "They bought into it, they believed in each other."
On Saturday, the Cougars started strong. In the first set, they kept the Rams close in a back-and-forth battle for the lead. When the Cougars tied the Rams at 10-10, they went on an 8-1 run to pull ahead. Though the Rams narrowed the score to a two-point deficit, the Cougars closed for a 25-22 win.
But the next two sets belonged to the Rams. Though the Cougars leaped ahead 9-3 to start the second set, the Rams then evened the score at 10. The Cougars then took a five-point lead, but again the Rams pushed back to score nine points in a row. The Rams maintained their lead and defeated the Cougars 25-20 to tie the match at 1-1. The Rams held tight to their momentum from the previous set to again earn a 25-20 set win over the Cougars.
Down 2-1, the Cougars were not about to go down without a fight.
"I was still pretty relaxed [going into that fourth game]. I saw what we did against Centreville and I knew we had it in us," said Courain, referring to the Cougars' comeback win over the Wildcats in the district semifinals Thursday. "We come into these matches saying we need to win three games. Whether we're down 2-1 or whatever, it doesn't change our goal. Our mindset can't change. We need three, we had one, we just needed two more."
The Rams and Cougars played tug-of-war with the lead until the Cougars broke a 12-12 tie with six straight points to start a 13-5 run to take the fourth set 25-17. The turnaround in the fourth game for the Cougars came from the blockers, Courain said.
"We started blocking, it disrupted their hitters, and they started making hitting errors," Courain said.
The Cougars dominated in the final set, bursting to a 10-3 lead and holding the lead for a 15-8 win for the match.
Abby Mills, a senior co-captain who earned the distinction as the tournament's MVP, led the Cougars with 16 kills. Olson, who made the All-Tournament team, had 10 kills and 30 assists. Misa Mori also made the All-Tournament team and had seven kills, four aces and 15 digs on Saturday.
Kara Sadosuk and Kaylee Homyk notched six aces, and Sadosuk led the Cougars in digs with 20.
The Cougars will enter the Northern Region Tournament as the No. 1 seed for the Concorde District. They will host Hayfield in a 7 p.m. match Monday.
"We've wanted the district championship so bad for so long, I can't believe our season is still going," Olson said. "Hopefully we can carry this high into Monday and the rest of the region tournament."
Abby Mills, 16
Emma Olson, 10
Misa Mori, 7
Bri Goodwin, 5
Karina Nyman, 5
Emma Olson, 30
Kaylee Homyk, 6
Kara Sadosuk, 6
Misa Mori, 4
Kara Sadosuk, 20
Misa Mori, 15
Emma Olson, 6
Abby Mills, 6
Mikayla Turner, 5
Karina Nyman, 2
Abby Mills, 1
Tara Wilkins, 1