“I got a little overheated,” Maiden said.
It was a symbolic moment for a team that became the red-hot Rebels during the last month of the season.
Patrick Henry claimed the first state volleyball championship in program history with a convincing 25-14, 25-20, 25-11 win over Riverheads in the VHSL Class 1 finals at Northside High School.
PH (25-2) never trailed in Tuesday’s match, a fitting end to what was a dominant postseason showing for the Rebels.
Over the course of the Hogoheegee District, Region 1D and state tournaments, Patrick Henry won 24 of the 26 games it played.
The finals were more of a coronation than a competition as the Rebels set the tone in each of the three games and showcased plenty of poise.
Did second-year PH head coach Pam Ratliff Newberry figure it would be so easy?
“I did not,” Newberry said. “Obviously, we hoped it would be. But this is the state finals. Riverheads got here for a reason and so did we. … We came out ready to play. We said all season we wanted to play our game no matter where we were or who we were playing against.”
The match had originally been scheduled for Friday at the Salem Civic Center, but was postponed due to bad weather in Augusta County, where Riverheads is located.
Not even a week off between matches could curtail the roll the Rebels were on, however.
“I think all of our nerves, they left over the weekend,” said PH sophomore Jamayia Honaker. “It made us more ready and relaxed. We came out ready to win. … It was definitely one of the best matches we’ve played. We really wanted to just come out and make history. We’ve never had a state title in volleyball and all of us were ready to change that.”
It was senior Carlee Taylor who delivered the match-clinching point with a kill, setting off the long-awaited celebration.
“It kind of took a minute for it to sink in,” Taylor said. “It was like ‘Oh my gosh, I just had the game-winning point.’ It felt great not just for me, but my team put together so much hard work this year and now we’re state champs.”
That it was Taylor who delivered the kill also spoke to one of the strengths of the Rebels.
“The thing that has helped us all year is the depth we've had,” Newberry said. “Back row, front row, setting.”
That was all on display Tuesday as Maiden (14 kills), Honaker (eight kills), Ashlynn Light (eight kills) and Abigail Belcher (six kills, six blocks) dominated at the net; senior setter Gracie Hammond was excellent all-around (29 assists, 22 digs, four kills, two aces); Hannah Holmes (23 digs), Alyssa Evans (12 digs), Elizabeth Johnson (eight digs) and Logan Newberry (seven digs) excelled on defense.
It was an attack too powerful for the Riverheads Gladiators to counter.
“I guess we weren’t ready for that pace,” said Riverheads coach Nyssa Stapleton. “Their defense was very good. Their blockers and libero [Holmes] were on point.”
It was the second time a Southwest Virginia squad had spoiled Stapleton’s hopes of a state title.
She was a player at Riverheads in 2014 when the Gladiators lost to Gate City in the VHSL 2A finals.
“It isn’t any easier,” Stapleton said. “I was on the other side of that and now I have to talk to 14 girls who are crying. All I can do is boost them up and prepare for next season. I’m losing two seniors and they are the ones that are heartbroken the most, but they were great players and have nothing to be down about.”
In a sport that is all about momentum, Patrick Henry was the sole owner of it.
The Rebels opened the match with a kill from Honaker, foreshadowing the dominance to come. PH sprinted out to leads of 5-1, 10-5 and 18-10 in the opener.
The second game was tied at seven when back-to-back blocks from Belcher kickstarted an impressive 11-1 run. Riverheads (22-6) got within 21-19, but the Rebels subdued that rally.
The third game was all PH as the Rebels led 15-3 at one point and prompted chants of “sweep, sweep, sweep,” from the loud student section that made the trip up Interstate 81.
Patrick Henry had quite a noticeable edge in fans over the squad from Staunton.
“Our whole community has been behind us and backing us up all year,” Honaker said.
Patrick Henry was swept by Hogoheegee District rival Holston on Oct. 4 and had to beat the Cavaliers in the final match of the regular season just to claim the league’s regular-season title.
“That just set in a fire in us,” Honaker said.
PH ended the season with 12 straight wins.
“I don’t know what it was that clicked,” Newberry said. “I can’t explain it.”
Maiden finished with 36 kills in three state tournament matches and overcame her little spell of fatigue.
"We wanted the state championship and we just came out like rowdy Rebels," Maiden said. "We came out and fought."
Maiden, a sophomore, is one of the many reasons Patrick Henry has a bright future since Hammond, Taylor, Light and Taylor Chapman were the only seniors on the title team.
Hammond assisted on Taylor's final kill, a memorable way to end her four years as a starting setter.
In a high school career that saw her dish out more than 2,000 career assists, the last one was the sweetest.
“This is the best way it could end,” Hammond said. “I’m so grateful for this team.”
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