Briar Woods visualizes, then earns a volleyball state final berth by sweeping Deep Run

Volleyball game day at Briar Woods starts in a dark gym with 15 girls sitting in a circle, eyes closed, not saying a word.

And then setter Megan Courtney pipes up. Imagine making the perfect pass to a perfect set for the perfect kill, she says. Visualize winning this game. Visualize going to states. Then the lights flip on. Game time.

The Falcons won’t have to imagine it any longer. After a 25-13, 25-15, 25-14 trouncing of Henrico County’s Deep Run in a Virginia 5A semifinal Tuesday night in Ashburn, they’re headed to Richmond to play for a state title.

Briar Woods will face Princess Anne of Virginia Beach at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Saturday’s nightcap at 7 p.m.

“We have so much heart on this team,” Courtney said. “Everyone really wants it. That’s what it comes down to.”

Briar Woods has all kinds of superstitions. If you missed the bus for an away game and the Falcons won, you won’t be on the bus next time. Courtney won’t be caught dead without her pink headband. Coach Mike Byers tweaked his lineup midway through the season and the Falcons won three straight matches. He resolved not to change it again.

Along with all that heart and visualization — “We’ve been thinking about states since the first day of practice,” setter Maria Gonzalez said — maybe the process helped Briar Woods (23-3) get this far. It endured a five-set battle at Patrick Henry-Roanoke, then another at Tuscarora in Leesburg in a span of two days.

Try sitting on a bus for four hours knowing you’ll end up at gym full of folks ready to beat your volleyball brains, Gonzalez said. It helps to visualize a win on that bus ride, to listen to music, close your eyes and get in the zone. You can cheer and dance on the way back after earning home-court advantage to play for a shot at the state title.

After Tuesday’s match, students rushed the court following the postgame handshake and mobbed the team for pictures. An administrator handed outside hitter and team captain Logan Manusky a sign reading, “VOLLEYBALL GOOD LUCK AT STATES!”

Talk about visualization, Byers said. The sign was hanging on the door to the gym before the match.

“We’ve proven that we can do it,” he told the team afterward. “Now do it again.”

Cougars fall in five sets

Top-seeded Oakton fell to Kellam of Virginia Beach in Vienna, 23-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-20, 15-9, in a Virginia 6A semifinal. Kellam will face Ocean Lakes on Thursday in Richmond in the state final. Oakton finishes the season 27-4 three years after winning just five matches.
“The girls can be proud of everything they’ve done this year,” Coach Dan Courain said of his 6A North region champion squad. “I think this puts us on the map. I think a lot of people are gonna think about Oakton differently.”● OCEAN LAKES 3, LANGLEY 1: In the other 6A semifinal, Langleylost to 6A South region champion Ocean Lakes of Virginia Beach. The Saxons finished 26-3.

“I feel bad for our seniors,” Coach Susan Shifflett said. “Losing sucks. But we have too much talent coming back next year to not go all the way.”

● PRINCESS ANNE 3, TUSCARORA 0: The third-seeded Huskies lost to No. 2-seed Princess Anne of Virginia Beach in straight sets, 25-13, 25-20, 25-19, in a Virginia 5A semifinal in Virginia Beach. The Huskies finish the year 15-13.

● LOUDOUN COUNTY 3, COURTLAND 0: Behind 16 kills fromHailey Rubino and another 11 from Hannah Aycock, Loudoun Countyswept Courtland of Spotsylvania County, 25-10, 25-18, 25-14, in a Virginia 4A semifinal in Leesburg. The Raiders will play for their ninth state championship in 10 years on Saturday at 5 p.m., against Jamestown.

“I think they just came out determined,” Raiders Coach Sherrilyn Hanna said. “They’ve have Jamestown in their cross-hairs since the beginning of the season.”


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