By Randy Arrington
BERRYVILLE, Nov. 3 — If you picked the Luray Bulldogs as a dark horse in the region’s volleyball postseason, you may like your ever-improving odds. Although they entered the Region B tournament as a No. 6 seed, the Bulldogs have worked their way into next Tuesday’s Region B championship at East Rockingham.
Luray battled the Eagles of East Rock in last week’s Bull Run tournament and despite a 3-0 loss in the district semifinal, the match was extremely close — 24-26, 21-25, 23-25. East Rock won its region semifinal by a similar narrow margin, 3-1, over Central on Thursday night — 25-23, 27-29, 25-20, 26-24.
The Bulldogs advance to next week’s Region B title match after two consecutive upsets on the road over No. 3 Buckingham (3-1) in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday and an extremely dramatic, five-set victory over second-seeded Clarke (3-2) on Thursday in Berryville.
Luray (16-8) is the hottest team at the net right now, as fewer mistakes and improved communication on the floor is showing rewards in the postseason. Despite dropping six of their first 13 matches, Luray has now won nine of its last 11.
On Thursday night, Luray turned an early 6-2 lead over Clarke into an advantage they would not relinquish. The lead would extend to 18-11 in the first set before the home team made a comeback to within two at 24-22. LHS seniors Jaidyn McClung, Lindsey Bly and Claudia Cave accounted for a combined 16 points to claim the first set 25-22.
The second set was again a back-and-forth affair, tied four times before Clarke was able to pull a few points ahead at 16-12. But the Bulldogs kept coming back within a point every time the Eagles tried to build on its lead, bringing the score to 19-18 and 24-23. Clarke closed out a narrow 25-23 win with one of several kills recorded by senior Keira Rohrbach to even the match at 1-1. McClung recorded six kills during the set despite the loss.
The third and fourth sets saw one team dominate, with Luray cruising to a 25-8 win in the third and Clarke returning the favor in the fourth with a 25-17 win. In a game of momentum swings, it was hard for either team to change the course of events in either set.
The fifth and final set — first to 15 — was loud and dramatic, as the visiting crowd could feel another upset brewing. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-1 lead that soon became 3-3. Luray then made another push to pull ahead 6-3. The visitors maintained a three-point lead to 9-6 before extending it to 12-6. At this point, the Bulldog faithful were clearly feeling a trip to the championship…but it wouldn’t be easy.
Clarke clawed its way back into the final and deciding set, outscoring Luray 7-2 down the stretch to make the score 14-13 in favor of Luray. Clarke was within three points of a win, but the ‘Dawgs only needed one — and they would get it, along with an improbable trip to the Region B title match and a ticket to the state tournament.
McClung finished the night with 17 kills, three assists, 24 digs and one block. During Tuesday’s quarterfinal at Buckingham, the two-time Bull Run District “Player of the Year” recorded her 1,000th career kill — 17 of those during that night’s match. At the end of the regular season on Senior Night, McClung recorded her 1,000th career dig against Rappahannock.
Bly, who is playing her best volleyball in the postseason, posted 11 kills on Thursday, to go along with two assists, one ace, 12 digs and 19 blocks. A nice compliment to McClung and Bly has been the improved play of Cave, who recorded nine kills and 12 digs on Thursday at Clarke and another eight kills at Buckingham on Tuesday. Unsung star of the team, sophomore Cadence Cave had 32 assists in the region semifinal, along with serving up three aces, making 13 digs and smashing two kills.
Junior Gracie Embry chalked up a kill, an ace and 12 digs, while junior Summer Forder had one assist and six digs. Senior Bailey Ancell had 19 digs.
Clarke ends their season at 15-10 and saw strong play by first-team, All-District junior Anna Spencer, who recorded 15 kills during the match.
Thursday night was clearly the biggest win of the 2022 season for the Bulldogs, and they are playing “team” volleyball at a time in the season when it really counts.
The Region B championship will match sixth-seeded Luray (16-8) against top-seeded East Rock (22-6) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at East Rockingham High School near Elkton.
For full schedules, rosters and standings — check out the Bull Run District website.
McClung named Bull Run’s Player of the Year, Bulldogs place three on All-District squad
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Bulldogs beat Panthers, 3-0, in regular season finale; Luray hosts Rapp in district quarterfinal
Bulldogs pick up Bull Run win, 3-1, over visiting Mountaineers
Bulldogs sweep Panthers in three sets at the net
Bulldogs conquer Generals in Bull Run match as Luray moves to 5-2 on the season
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