T.C. Williams first-team all-district middle blocker Kate Whitmire leaped at the net and smashed an attack toward Lake Braddock’s Tara Fialkow. The Bruins senior got low enough to dig the blasted ball, sending it back toward the Titans. Not expecting the powerful ricochet, TC players were left watching as the ball sailed over their heads and landed near the end line for a Lake Braddock point.
The Bruins were outplayed early in their meeting with the Titans in the opening round of the Patriot District volleyball tournament, losing the first two games. After bouncing back with a convincing win in game three, Fialkow’s dig-turned-kill fired up the Bruins early in game four, signifying a change in momentum.
"I think it made a little bit of a difference," Fialkow said. "It was a miracle play. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t. I think it really helped. It felt good."
No. 4 TC made a brief run in game four, but it was too little too late. No. 5 Lake Braddock seized control of the match and came back to win 3-2 (26-28, 21-25, 25-8, 25-18, 15-9), ending the Titans’ season on Nov. 1 at TCWHS. After winning the first two games, TC started slowly in game three, falling behind 12-3. They would eventually lose 25-8 and never recovered.
"The third game, I think we thought, ‘We already have two under our belt, we can relax a little,’" Whitmire said. "I looked at the scoreboard and we were down six and I was like, ‘What is going on?’"
While the loss was tough for the Titans to swallow, the fact TC was hosting an opening-round game for the first time since 2001 showed signs of improvement. The Titans will return eight players, including sophomore Whitmire and junior outside hitters Grand Roberson and Zoe Newhouse.
"Now, from day one next year, they know the work ethic they need, they know the level of play they need," first-year head coach Michael Burch said. "I think this loss did more for us than any of the wins."
TC started the season 3-7, but began turning things around at the Alexandria City Tournament. After beating Episcopal and Bishop Ireton to win the tourney, the Titans finished the regular season 3-2, beating Annandale, Lake Braddock and West Potomac.
In the district tournament meeting with Lake Braddock, Whitmire tallied 20 kills, Roberson added five and senior Natalie Brown totaled five blocks.
"I have to give a lot of credit to TC," Lake Braddock head coach Mike Clark said. "They have a lot of losses to teams that are mediocre. They’ve lost a lot of games to teams that we’ve beat quite easily — [teams] we’ve even beat with our backups playing a lot. But that was earlier in the year and you can tell that they’ve come a long way. Everybody kind of talked to me and said, ‘When we played TC it was no big deal. You guys will handle them, no big deal. You guys are a really good team. I really don’t think we played all that bad the first two games.
"Their coaching staff has figured out something for them. They don’t have a very deep team, and yet the parts that they have they’ve put together in a nice way by the end of the year. Honestly, I feel like if we would have lost tonight and they had moved on, they would have had just as good a chance to keep" winning as we would have.
Burch said he will soon start an offseason conditioning program, incorporating elements from his days as a college coach.
"Next year, we’re going to be the bomb," Whitmire said. "South County better watch out."