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Branch Carries Titans to City Bragging Rights

Senior finishes with 20 kills in tournament title match against Episcopal.

T.C. Williams was falling apart Saturday during the title match of the Alexandria City Volleyball Tournament. After winning the first two games against Episcopal, the Titans grew complacent, dropping the next two by double-digit margins.

With momentum on its side, Episcopal scored the first three points of the deciding fifth game and appeared destined for a repeat of last year’s five-game championship victory over T.C. Williams. But that’s when Miranda Branch lifted the Titans on her back and carried them to city bragging rights one clutch kill at a time.

Branch called for the ball and delivered eight kills in the final game of a 3-2 (25-21, 25-22, 13-25, 15-25, 15-10) victory over the Maroons at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes School.

"I told my setter … ‘Set me the ball, I’m going to crush it,’" Branch said.

And crush she did.

The senior outside hitter finished with 20 kills and was responsible for more than half of the Titans’ points in game five. Episcopal led 9-5 in the fifth when Branch slammed the door on the Maroons. Branch tallied five kills during a 10-1 T.C. Williams run to close the match, giving the Titans their third title in the tournament’s five-year history.

"I definitely felt really focused," Branch said. "I was like, ‘We’re going to get the win, no matter what (the) cost.’ I was just going for everything."

WHILE THE TITANS were struggling in games three and four, Branch had eight kills. She accounted for six of T.C. Williams’ 13 points in game three.

"I think Miranda did a really good job of keeping the points up," Titan freshman Kate Whitmire said. "The third and fourth game, she wanted to win it the most. She wanted to go for everything. Everything that she hit was aggressive and everything that she did was aggressive."

Branch was a first-team all-Patriot District selection last season. T.C. Williams head coach Rhea Butler described her as "level headed" and "our No. 1 player." Fellow Titan senior Nicole Burdett said Branch is "very strategic."

"Miranda’s not a ‘let’s just get it over the net’ player," Burdett said.

Whitmire also had a strong performance for T.C. Williams, finishing with 12 kills. The 6-foot middle blocker scored the final point of the match with a block and kill.

Whitmire watched last season’s tournament loss to Episcopal from the stands as an eighth-grader. Able to make an on-court impact this season, she was determined to force a different outcome.

"I’ve been waiting for this all year," Whitmire said. "It was really important to me to win this game and to dominate. The last point meant a lot to me."

Freshman Sydney Trout had four kills and four aces for T.C. Williams. Junior setter Meron Hailu filled in for Rebecca Stone, who was recovering from an ankle injury.

"She has really stepped it up," Butler said of Hailu. "She was phenomenal."

OVERSHADOWED was the performance of Episcopal’s Mary Foran. The senior tallied 20 kills and appeared unstoppable as the Maroons battled back from a two-game deficit. Foran had 14 kills in games three and four, and scored the first point of game five.

"She was all over," Episcopal coach Mike Petock said. "[Friday] in our match [against Bishop Ireton], the coach on the other team asked [Foran], ‘When are you going to graduate?’"

An emotional Petock had tears in his eyes while discussing his team’s near comeback.

"We put our foot in the ground, drew a line in the sand and we just came back and did our best," he said. "I’m proud. [T.C. Williams] had a really good team over there. We did a great job."

Amelia Nelson finished with nine kills for Episcopal. Liz Helm and Sarah Dillard each had two.

T.C. Williams defeated St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes during Friday’s opening round, while Episcopal beat Bishop Ireton.