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Overcoming the ‘Curse of Five Games’

Lake Braddock storms back against TC to keep season alive

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, T.C. 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."

Lake Braddock overcame its early deficit and the No. 5 Bruins defeated No. 4 T.C. 3-2 (26-28, 21-25, 25-8, 25-18, 15-9) on Nov. 1 at T.C. Williams. With the win, Lake Braddock assured itself of a berth in the regional tournament while T.C.’s season came to a close.

"Most of us are seniors," Fialkow said. "We did not want our season to be over. This was it if we had lost."

The following night, Lake Braddock knocked off No. 1 West Springfield 3-1 in the semifinals at South County Secondary School. The Bruins will face No. 2 South County for the district title on Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. The Stallions are two-time defending district champions and last season’s state runner-up. The Bruins last won a district title in 2003.

Five-game matches had not been kind to Lake Braddock. Five times the Bruins found themselves in a five-game match prior to the Patriot District tournament, each time coming up short in a back-and-forth contest. With its season on the line Monday, Lake Braddock found a way to get it done.

"We’ve never won a fifth game," Fialkow said. "When it goes to five games we always lose them by, like, two points. It’s like a curse. We always talk about the ‘curse of five games.’ It feels so good to finally break it."

Head coach Mike Clark attributed the comeback to gaining momentum after being in an early hole.

"Honestly, I think losing the first two helped us to win the fifth," the coach said. "We hadn’t been in that situation before. It kind of got to the point where it was like, ‘OK, we’ve accepted the fact that we could lose, let’s stop playing not to lose and try to win.’"

Momentum was a likely cause for the comeback and the Bruins’ hitting performance helped set things in motion. Lake Braddock finished with a .381 hitting percentage, one of its best efforts of the year, according to Clark.

Sophomore setter/opposite hitter Kyra Rodi, a first-team all-district selection, recorded a triple-double with 12 kills, 17 digs and 25 assists.

"They started to get a little more in system," T.C. head coach Michael Burch said. "They were able to run the plays they wanted to run. We tried to make some adjustments and it just came down to execution. They execute really, really well. I don’t think it was anything we did. It’s just they stepped up and played."

Junior middle blocker Catherine Jamshidi had 11 kills and 1.5 blocks and senior middle Logan Russell had eight kills and three blocks.

"Logan and Catherine in the middle. That’s the difference between us and other teams," Clark said of the second-team all-district selections. "I think we have the best pair of middles in the region. That’s a huge claim to make, I understand that. I understand Stone Bridge has great middles, I understand South County has Simone [Antwi] and another good middle, [but] I wouldn’t trade [Jamshidi and Russell]."

Senior and three-year captain Danielle Ager had nine kills in 18 attempts with no errors.

"I thought Danielle Ager played phenomenally," Clark said. "That’s the best I’ve seen her play. As an outside hitter, they just couldn’t figure her out. … It really made me feel great that we’ve coached her for three years from where she was to showing up tonight. She was just so big for us."