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Baron girls advance to semifinal round, but fall shy of VHSL state tourney berth

South Boston News
Ashlyn Knott was put to the test versus King William. (Mike Moseley photo) / November 13, 2019

The Bluestone volleyball program reached a milestone this week, albeit not the main one the Lady Barons wanted — a trip to the Class 2 VHSL state tournament.

After sweeping Prince Edward in the quarterfinal round of the VHSL Region 2A volleyball tournament, No. 1 seed Bluestone (18-4, 13-3) advanced to unseen territory this week — the semifinal round of the region playoffs. Standing in the way of a trip to the region championship game and a state tournament berth was the Lady Barons’ opponent, No. 4 seed King William County (12-6, 10-6).

Though Bluestone was primed for the challenge, the Lady Cavaliers would play great volleyball on Saturday and walk away with the 3-2 win, thus ending a magnificent season for the Lady Barons.

Bluestone had reached the playoffs by finishing in second place in the James River District. Goochland was regular season JRD champs, but Bluestone drew the top seed in Region 2A postseason play because of their solid regular season efforts — and because Goochland is a Class 3 school and competes elsewhere in postseason competition.

The Lady Barons took their first-round bye and in the region quarterfinals bested district foe, No. 9 region seed Prince Edward, 3-0. With the win, Bluestone scored a season sweep of their district rivals and won the first region quarterfinal game in the program’s history.

Coach Darlynn Oxendine was happy to see Ashlyn Knott return to action after being sidelined with an ankle injury. “She came back and played like a pro,” the coach said.

Oxendine also spoke highly of her other seniors — Hite Jones, Tori Rowe, Annelise Bailey and Lilah Turner — and praised the different skills each brought to the floor to make Bluestone consistent winners.

Bluestone won the first set over PE, 26-24, in a game the girls had to battle back to win. The Lady Eagles held a 22-17 lead before the Bluestone girls rallied.

“I was not happy with the first set because it took them a long time to get ready,” Oxendine said. “And I’m thinking in playoffs, you’ve got to be ready from the beginning, you can’t give away points.

“And that first set, we gave away about 14 points. Setting and attacking, we kept giving them points.”

Even with that, Oxendine said she was proud of the way the girls fought back and eventually win the match.

“It was a good comeback and a good learning experience,” she said.

Scores in the PE match win were 26-24, 25-20 and 25-19. Oxendine gave the Lady Eagles their due, saying the team’s regular season record of 6-12 was not reflective of their talent.

Of the 63 match points that Prince Edward posted, Bluestone gave away 55 points — by failing to return a serve, or shanking the ball to the wall. “You know these were points they (PE) didn’t have to do anything to get,” Oxendine observed.

These were all things she talked to her team about as they prepared for King William.

In Bluestone’s quarterfinal loss to King William, the Lady Barons never got to the point of being able to play complete, winning volleyball, especially in the second and fifth games in the best-of-five match.

Bluestone won the opening set, 25-15. The teams basically remained within a point of each other until Bluestone took a 10-9 lead. From there Bluestone dominated for the win.

In set two, which Bluestone lost 25-22, the Barons clearly had this set under control leading 13-5. King William played some great volleyball — assisted by several uncharacteristic errors on Bluestone’s part — and tied the score 20-20. The Cavaliers took the lead from there to go on for the win.

“We gave them that game and it’s no reason we shouldn’t have won it,” said Oxendine of the second set loss. “We were up by eight.”

King William won set three 26-24. In this set the Cavaliers took a 14-7 lead after being knotted 3-3. Bluestone got back on their game and tied the score at 18-18.

The Lady Barons surged to a 20-18 lead and King William took a time out. The teams would lock up at 22-22 and 24-24 before King William won its second consecutive set.

In set four, Bluestone returned to playing with tenacity, determination and urgency. The Barons jumped out to a 6-1 score. King William would draw near at 16-11 but this was Bluestone’s game and they went on to roll to the 25-16 win.

In the tiebreaker Bluestone fell behind 8-4 before getting a foothold. The Lady Barons tied the match at 8-8 and then went ahead by a point. But this would be Bluestone’s best effort as the Cavaliers took a time out and came back to rattle off seven straight points, winning the match 15-9 and advancing to the Region 2A championship game.

Bluestone had 17 serve aces, 94 digs, 49 assists, 56 kills and five blocks in the loss. Oxendine remarked that the Lady Barons have the physical part of their game down well, now comes the mental part of the game — what it takes to win as you advance to levels such as the semifinals in region and state tournaments.

“They know how to pass, they know how to set, they know how to attack, they know how to serve — it’s here now,” Oxendine said, pointing to her head to emphasize the mental aspects of the game. “You’ve got to get that with all these people screaming and you’ve got to be able to put that serve in. And if you don’t put that serve in, you just gave them a point.”

Bluestone’s usual prowess at the net was somewhat neutralized, but Oxendine said that’s to be expected in the King William loss. “I’ve got to say in defense of my girls, they had tall girls and they had hard hitters,” she said, referring to the Lady Cavaliers.

Oxendine also made the point that in a game at this level, having another coach on the bench with her would have been a great benefit. Her husband Randy coaches the jayvee volleyball team and is the varsity assistant coach. But due to the Lady Barons not having an official scorekeeper at the match, Randy was off to the side, keeping the scorebook.

Still, Oxendine was elated for her girls and said the Lady Barons worked hard to get to the semifinals. It was no fluke Bluestone was there competing for the championship round, she said.

“I can say that the girls have given enough effort and extra time to be get that far,” Oxendine shared. “They go to camp with me at Carolina (UNC-Chapel Hill), and they have for the last three years. They play JO’s [Junior Olympics] and they have for the last four years and they’ve put time into this game.”

She already has the team in prep mode for the 2020 season. Although the team loses some powerful seniors, Oxendine sees good things ahead for Bluestone.

“We lose some seniors, but we got Seamans growing taller. Trista (Newcomb) is growing taller [and] both are getting better and better; Barretta is coming on too.

“Emma (Newcomb) is already knocking the fire out the ball. They just need playing time and they are all playing Junior Olympics — everybody that’s coming back is playing well. They just have to learn mentally.”

The coach went on to say that several other juniors and sophomores as well as some freshman team members will be of great benefit to the varsity next season.

As for King William, Lady Cavaliers coach Tiffany Ward said she was also proud of her team. Ward was working to bring the Cavaliers back from a 6-12 season in 2018.

This was also the furthest the Cavaliers volleyball team has advanced in its school history and Ward was pleased with the way her girls performed in the win over Bluestone.

“We just fought back,” Ward said. “You know we were down seven points in that one set. You know we work really hard and this is the furthest we’ve gone in King William history, so we plan on keeping it going to the next one.”

As for Bluestone’s program, Oxendine said reaching the semifinal round has entailed a lot of work by the Lady Barons. But now she wants that work rewarded with a region semifinal victory next season.

“You gotta learn how to win the first round and we did, and you’ve got to learn how to win the second round and we did. This third round, we just learned how to win it cause we’re going to win it next year,” Oxendine said.

Stats vs. King William: Emma Newcomb 9SA, 14DG, 20A, 22K, 1Blk; Ashlyn Knott 2SA, 22DG, 23K, 2 Blk; Trista Newcomb 2SA, 16DG, 1K, 2Blk; Tori Rowe 1SA, 23DG, 1A, 1K; Hite Jones 2SA, 5DG, 24A; Kaitlin Barretta 2DG, 4A, 7K; Kaylin Seamans 1SA, 4DG, 2K; Annelise Bailey 3DG; Hana Yancey 5DG.

Stats vs Prince Edward: E. Newcomb 2SA, 10DG, 15A, 12K, 1 Blk; T. Newcomb 1SA, 18DG, 2K; Knott 1SA, 15DG, 1A, 16K; Seamans 2SA, 2DG, 7K, 3 Blk; Rowe 21 DG, 2A, 1K; Jones 1SA, 6DG, 12A; Barretta 1 DG, 3K; Bailey 7DG.

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