Albemarle’s Lainey Haas hadn’t played a point Thursday night up until the moment she stepped in to serve with the Patriots trying to finish off Mountain View and earn a state tournament berth, but she’d obviously stayed engaged throughout from the Patriots’ bench.
“I was looking at the other side of the court and looking at my coach’s signal and realized that his signal was where the libero was and she’d been the best passer the whole game,” Haas said. “So I thought maybe I should serve it deep to one of the other players that’s not the libero and it worked out pretty well for me. I was so excited.”
Haas delivered, powering home an ace that helped get the Patriots over the hump in a hard-fought 25-23 game three win that completed a 3-0 victory over the Wildcats and clinched a spot in the Region 5D final as well as a state tournament berth.
“That was incredible having her come in from the bench — we all knew she’s one of our most consistent servers,” said Albemarle senior Adalee Lynch. “Having her come in and do that for us, it’s a lot of pressure, it’s really difficult and I was really impressed with her.”
A year after this core of players finished a win short of a state tournament berth with a 3-0 loss to Massaponax in the region semifinal, Albemarle took care of business Thursday, playing its way back into the state field to ensure they’d get a shot to make a run at the title. The Patriots’ energy matched the moment, helping steady them all night.
“We all love each other so much and we all work hard not just for ourselves but everyone else on the court and we’ve worked so hard all season for this game, to make it to states,” said Albemarle sophomore Maya Winterhoff.
The Patriots were in position to clinch the match when Haas stepped in in large part because after cruising in game one 25-18, they’d fought back in game two to win 25-22 despite falling into a 6-1 hole. Albemarle never panicked despite that early deficit and slowly reeled the Wildcats back in, with Winterhoff finding a zone in the midst of that frame, blasting home four kills and a crucial block to help turn the tide. That opened the door for the other half of Albemarle’s potent one-two punch up front in Lynch, the 2019 Jefferson District player of the year, to finish off the game with two kills and a block.
“We had so much energy and we never got down on ourselves,” Winterhoff said. “We knew that we were so close and we knew we could pound it back at them. We kept fighting.”
Winterhoff finished with a 16 kills and five blocks on the night while Lynch rang up 14 kills and a pair of blocks. That tandem’s ability to finish is one reason the Patriots don’t seem to get rattled.
“This is incredible, getting to states has always been a goal for us since early in the season,” Lynch said. “To finally make it happen has been amazing.”
Setter Olivia Turner played solid two-way volleyball on the night, coming up with 16 digs to go with her 29 assists. Maggie Weber was also huge defensively with 19 digs while Francesca Penaredondo finished with 13 digs. Penaredondo had one booming, diving dig in the third game that didn’t end in a point for the Patriots but like Haas’ ace gave Albemarle an instant infusion of energy.
Now the Patriots (24-3) will host the Region 5D championship Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against North Stafford before playing in the state tournament after that.