By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
So far, the only team able to vanquish Patrick Henry boys volleyball this season has been Deep Run, who took two of three sets from the Patriots in the Virginia Volleyball Showcase September 1.
Monday night, the Patriots and Wildcats collided for their only regular season meeting, a match rife with storylines. The Wildcats looked to hold serve at home and grab a full win over a longtime rival. Patrick Henry wanted revenge from the Showcase, and to earn head coach Michael Townsend his 100th career coaching win.
Most everyone entering the gymnasium at Deep Run expected a full five sets of volleyball, and the teams didn’t disappoint. But it almost didn’t happen.
After Townsend challenged his players like he hasn’t done before this season after Deep Run opened a 2-1 lead after three sets, he watched his Patriots struggle through the first half of the fourth set. Then, slowly, but surely, the momentum drifted towards Patrick Henry’s side. There wasn’t one point that changed things. Gradually, through scrappy defense and creative digs, the Patriots roared back to win and force the tiebreaker.
Deep Run jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but Patrick Henry didn’t panic, calmly piling up points, using a combination of power hitting, solid defense, and the benefit of two critical Wildcat errors to take the victory 3-2, 15-8 in the fifth set, putting Townsend into the 100 Win Club, but, more importantly, giving Patrick Henry a big win over a tough opponent.
“Hats off to Deep Run, that’s, by far, the best defense we’ve seen,” Townsend noted courtside after the match. “I don’t know that we’ll see a better defense (this year). If it wasn’t soft blocked, it was getting dug. It definitely made it frustrating for us.”
The Wildcats lived on the block and dig in both set victories, taking the first and third sets, Patrick Henry handling the third. For a time, it looked like Deep Run would wrap the evening up early, but the Patriots found a way, came back for the 25-22 win, setting up the final showdown.
Libero Connor Logan, who had 40 digs, had a particularly tough stretch from late in set one to midway through set two. Digs weren’t digging, shots weren’t falling, yet, teammates constantly came up to him, showing faith in him. So it seemed appropriate that, in the final points of set five, it was Logan firing off an ace that placed the Patriots on verge of victory.
“I think one of the most important parts of volleyball, of any sport really, is to have a team that has your back. It’s not just one person, if the whole team isn’t doing well, but you work with each other, pick each other up, you’re going to be more successful,” Logan explained.
Also picking up Patrick Henry was Jarrett Carrano with 15 kills, 19 digs and a pair of aces, while CW McIlhenny provided 14 kills and 13 digs, several kills at key points throughout the match, whether to add to a Patriot lead, or to help stem a Wildcat tide. Luke Puckett, Jaxon Delgado, Cal Inge, the names could go on. Each participating player was needed at top level on the court, reserves at top cheering and support level on the sideline.
“I told them, I know it’s mid-season, but I need you guys to play perfect right now,” Townsend said, recalling a huddle conversation. “I need you to play perfect. At the beginning of the fifth set, it didn’t look so perfect, but with a five-point run right after that, we kept getting the ball up, kept slowing the ball on blocking and we minimized our errors.”
The match, the performance, the climb back, the defense pressure of Deep Run, everything about this Patrick Henry win will serve the Patriots well, likely in November, when they will inevitably find a pressure situation that won’t be a mid-season affair, but a win or go home battle. The Patriots showed, once again, that they have no intention of going home this season without another important piece of hardware.