By Randy Arrington
LURAY, April 15 — The Luray volleyball team has consistently improved during the shortened 2021 spring season, and no one knows that better than the Eagles of Clarke County.
The Bulldogs lost two of their first three games this season before getting on track and winning 10 of their last 11. One of their three losses — and the only loss since March 8 — came to Clarke, 3-2, on the road on March 27. However, Luray closed out the regular season 10 days later with a decisive, 3-0, win over the Eagles at home.
After defeating Madison in a region semifinal, 3-1, on Tuesday, the Bulldogs sweep the Eagles again in three straight sets on Thursday to claim the Region 2B championship in front of a loud home crowd Thursday night.
“Consistency…focus…and working hard in practice” is what LHS head coach Susan Henry-Wilson credits to her team’s consistent improvement and nearly flawless performance heading into the playoffs.
Six of the nine volleyball players for the Bulldogs were members of the girls basketball team that won Luray’s first-ever state title at Gate City almost two months ago. Next week, the same group will go for the school’s first state title in volleyball since 1988, as they host Region A champion, Poquoson, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20 in a 2A state semifinal.
The consistency and experience that develops among a group of athletes that play multiple sports together over several seasons — including multiple trips to the postseason — give the Bulldogs an edge in big games.
“It definitely helps,” Coach Henry-Wilson said. “They are prepared. They are probably more calm than I am.”
The LHS coach wants to see even more communication on defense as the Bulldogs head into the four-team state tournament next week. However, she feels that serve reception from senior Baylee Burrill and a powerful offensive strike at the net by senior Brynlee Burrill are two of the key strengths of the team. The coach also complimented the overall team effort of her nine-person squad, while noting that sophomore Lindsay Bly is improving and “really getting hot at the right time” and sophomore Jaidyn McClung has “been a big part of our success.”
On Thursday night, Luray jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first set and never relinquished the lead. Brynlee Burrill recored six kills in the first set, while sophomore Jaidyn McClung had five. McClung and senior Makenzie Richards also contributed several crucial blocks at the net as Luray closed out the first frame 25-20.
The Bulldogs made quick work of the Eagles in the second set, cruising to a 25-6 win behind strong play from Bly, who recorded three saves and three blocks. McClung added five more kills to her totals.
The third set started off looking as if Clarke might extend the match, but Luray battled back from a small deficit and stayed even with the Eagles. With the set tied 18-18, Luray went on to outscore the visitors 7-2 to close out a 25-20 win for the set, match and a region championship.
As the Region B champion, Luray (11-3) gets to host the Region A champion, which was pre-determined. Luray earned the No.1 seed in the Region 2B tournament after sharing the Bull Run District title with Clarke and then narrowly edging out the Eagles in the 2A power rankings. Clarke finishes the season at 10-4.
For schedules, rosters, results and standings, visit the Bull Run District website.