While the girls of the South County volleyball team looked at the outcome of their run at a Virginia AAA State Championship title on Saturday, Nov. 21, and saw defeat, their head coach, Dave Prahl, saw victory.
Sitting in the press room of the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, after losing three games to Loudoun Valley High School, Prahl reflected on his team's improbable run to the State finals.
"It's just been an awesome journey," Prahl said. "Our school is only 5-years old and no one expected us to get close to [the finals] years ago. To make it this far is incredible."
After losing to Robinson Secondary School on Oct. 8, the team went on a 15-game winning streak to reach the State finals. During that run, the Stallions won the Patriot District title for the second straight year and the Northern Region title.
"We've had an awesome season and we're the best team in our region," Prahl said. "Every girl had an outstanding year. Our seniors were incredible and it's fun to be in [the State competition] atmosphere."
At the beginning of the regular season, Prahl had hoped his team might be able to advance past the Regional quarterfinals, but when his team accomplished that goal, he decided to ride out the momentum as far as it could go.
"When you're playing as well as we we’re playing, you end up building the confidence to know you can get as far as you want," he said.
The Stallions carried their momentum as far as the first game of the finals, besting Loudoun Valley 25-19. But, they could not hold more than a two-point lead in the final three games.
Loudoun Valley won the next three games with scores of 16-25, 22-25 and 22-25 as the Stallions were unable to keep up with the Vikings' fast pace.
"We got a good roll in the first game," Prahl said. "We didn't play our A-game in the second and got frustrated."
Service errors also hamstrung the Stallions early in the match. In the first game, the Stallions gave up five points on service errors, three in the second and only one in the third and fourth games.
"I think it was nerves in the first game," Prahl said. "But then we settled down."
Even with the early jitters, the Stallions' top hitters, Lindsay Stephens and Simone Antwi, turned in strong performances despite Loudoun Valley's best efforts to keep the ball away from the duo.
Stephens finished the match with one ace, 19 kills and one dig while Antwi had 16 kills.
The fierce force of Antwi and Stephens' hits caught the attention of Loudoun Valley head coach Laird Johnson.
"When you've got splinters flying around you [from Antwi and Stephens' hits], it's tough [to concentrate]," Johnson said jokingly.
Despite the loss, Stephens was ecstatic to reach the State finals in her last season as a Stallion.
"I could not have asked for more," Stephens said. "We have done so much with what we are given. For the few people that were upset, I understand why, but I am so happy. Second in the State is amazing."
The fact that many of their competitors were State Tournament veterans drove home just how significant the season was for the South County team.
"Looking at the program that was sold here, you saw teams that have been here numerous times," Prahl said. "We weren't even on the map years ago. People just thought of us as a team that doesn't play very well.
Although South County only won one game, it advanced farther the State tournament than any team in the Northern Region and is the only Northern Region team to earn a win during a finals match.
In 2007, Langley High School advanced to the finals but lost 3-0 to Deep Run High School, and Westfield High School appeared in the 2008 finals but fell 3-0 to Albemarle.
"Our schools seemed to get knocked out in the first round by teams from Virginia Beach," Prahl said. "But next year we're going to get it. Next year, it's going to be us."
With six seniors graduating, Prahl said it will be up to big-hitter Simone Antwi to lead her team in the 2010 season.
"It's going to be the Simone show next