PENN LAIRD — They fought until the very end, but the Waynesboro Little Giants’ volleyball season ended Wednesday night as Spotswood picked up the 24-26, 25-7, 20-25, 25-22, 15-9 win to advance to the Valley District tournament finals.
The Little Giants grabbed the win in two of the first three sets, but Spotswood outlasted them in the final two sets to secure a berth in the Region 3C tournament and move on to unbeaten Rockbridge County on Thursday night.
“They played hard,” Waynesboro head coach Lori Aleshire said. “Volleyball is an all-mental game, and this was a rollercoaster fight. In the games we started strong we finished strong. The games we fell behind, we couldn’t get back. When you’re at this point in the season you can’t give teams points, so it’s the unforced errors that caused us to lose tonight.”
The two teams came out with high energy as they exchanged points frequently to open the first set. An ace by sophomore Keghan Marion put Waynesboro up 11-9, but from there the Trailblazers began to grab momentum.
A string of three straight kills from sophomore Addi White and strong hitting all-around gave Spotswood a cushion. Junior Gabrielle Atwell connected on her fifth kill of the set to extend Spotswood’s lead to 22-18, and it looked like the Little Giants might fall in the opening set.
Waynesboro responded by rattling off four consecutive points and an ace by senior Ryleigh Wood tied it up. Spotswood grabbed a set point, but a pair of miscues put the Little Giants back in it, and back-to-back out-of-bounds returns gave Waynesboro the opening set.
“We played aggressive when we were ahead, we had fun when we were ahead and we didn’t make errors when we were ahead,” Aleshire said of her team’s performance in the two sets they won.
The second set belonged to the Trailblazers from the beginning. They scored the opening seven points before Waynesboro notched a kill and went on a 15-2 run overall. A kill by senior Kayci Carrier a few minutes later clinched the dominating set for Spotswood.
It was Waynesboro’s turn to jump out to a big lead in the third set, as the Little Giants capitalized on several miscues to grab a 10-3 lead. The Trailblazers would make a run at the midway mark to come within three, but the Little Giants responded with five consecutive points. A powerful swing from junior Kali Jones gave Waynesboro wrapped up the win in the set.
Atwell continued her impressive play with three kills early to help build a lead, but Waynesboro did not plan to fall too far behind and back-to-back kills by Jones knotted the set up at 10. The teams exchanged a few more points until Spotswood rode strong hitting to take four points in a row.
“Down the stretch, we played very good,” Spotswood head coach Jim Roth said. “I was happy to see a little adversity. It was nice to see the girls battle back because I’ve got a lot of young players.”
Waynesboro would attempt a comeback, but an errant return eventually handed the set to the Trailblazers.
“In the sets where we had too many missed serves and unforced errors, we gave them points,” Aleshire said. “We needed to make them earn their points, and I didn’t feel we did that in the games we lost.”
The two teams traded blows in the final set, which was the second time these two teams have gone the distance this season. Junior Talajah Brooks placed a couple of accurate kills as the teams played a dead-even 8-8 set at the midway point.
Unfortunately for the Little Giants, Spotswood had one more run in them. They outscored Waynesboro 7-1 from that point and punched their ticket to the Region 3C tournament next week.
“Every win is nice, especially against a good team that’s battled us all year long,” Roth said. “Hats off to Waynesboro for pushing us to our limits tonight, but I’m proud of my girls for the effort tonight.”
Atwell led the team with 22 digs, 21 kills and two aces. Sophomore Avery Chandler set a school record with 52 digs and sophomore Madelyn Williams helped her teammates out with 52 assists.
“She [Atwell] has been a stud for us all season long,” Roth said. “We love getting her the ball because she can put it down on lots of different spots on the court. She’s also a machine out there blocking for us.”
For the Little Giants, Jones led her team with 11 kills. Senior Cierra Bruce added 29 assists and 24 digs, while Wood recorded 15 digs and three aces.
Waynesboro’s season ended Wednesday night, but the Little Giants still have something to celebrate by reaching their farthest point in the season since 2013.
“We made it further than we’ve been since 2013,” Aleshire said. “We’re going in the right direction; we just have to keep playing. We have open gyms starting in three weeks. Hopefully, we’ll have a season in the fall like normal and we’ll get back to it.”