They hadn’t even left the Siegel Center Court with the former 5A State Championship trophy last November, but the talk was already circling the arena just after Patrick Henry boys volleyball’s historic state title.
“They’re moving down to 4A next year. Who’s going to stop them?”
Indeed, Patrick Henry moved to the now “Class 4” with the dawning of the 2017-18 school year, and, ever since Michael Townsend’s Patriots began August practice, fans have been anointing them the heavy favorites to celebrate at Siegel again.
But Monday night’s Class 4 Western Section Semifinal in Ashland against Hanover spotlighted exactly what kind of pitfalls, problems, and perplexities can come with such high expectations. Having only played twice since an October 17th sweep of Atlee, the Patriots showed rust, their level of emotion not at November peak, although they defeated county rival Hanover in three sets to clinch a return to the State Tournament on Tuesday. But that’s not the observation of a casual fan, or even a reporter. It was from their coach.
“It’s tough. We haven’t been challenged in two and a half weeks, since Atlee. We’ve had a lot going against us,” Townsend explained following the win. “We needed this, a little bit of waking up.”
The cold slap in the face didn’t come until the second set, as Patrick Henry got off to a good start in Set 1, holding off a couple of Hanover comeback tries for a 25-19 win, the Hawks committing two critical service errors which circumvented their early efforts. But Hanover hit the court undaunted, and still high on emotion, their season on the line, pushing Patrick Henry point for point in a second set that saw them hang around, then pushed their play into overdrive, serving for Set Point at 24-23.
That point began a series of six consecutive Set Points for Hanover. Confidently, the Patriots repelled attempt after attempt by the Hawks to finish the job. When Patrick Henry won two straight points to earn Set Point at 31-30, they didn’t disappoint, as CW McIlhenny and Jaxon Delgado combined on the block to finish the set on defense for a 32-30 victory.
“It’s what I kept telling them, it’s hard to beat a team that never gives up,” noted Hanover head coach Hilary Cassil. “PH, they get a hand on everything. They put balls down when they get those sets and get a hand on everything on defense. It’s hard to beat.”
The inability to finish that second set hurt the Hawks early in Set 3 as Patrick Henry zoomed to an 8-1 lead, punctuated by a Jarrett Carrano ace to finish the early run. With time running out, down 19-9, Hanover launched one final comeback attempt to extend the match, a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 19-16. But the Patriots rebounded, scoring six of the final ten points to punch their ticket to a Tuesday Class 4 State Semifinal, 25-19, 32-30, 25-20.
Carrano led Patrick Henry (19-0) with 11 kills, while Delgado added seven. Adam Lane had 30 assists, while Connor Logan had 32 digs. Peyton Grubbs and Turner Cole each had seven kills for Hanover (9-9), while Griffin Meyers added six to go with four blocks.
The win makes Patrick Henry the host for the Western Section title match, played Wednesday after press deadline. A victory would give the Patriots home-court advantage in the Class 4 State Semifinals on Tuesday night. A defeat would mean a trip to the Eastern Section champion to play for the right to return to the Siegel Center, where the Class 4 State Championship will be played Thursday November 16th at 1pm.
Patrick Henry is one of three county volleyball teams still alive for a state championship, as Hanover girls volleyball faced Courtland Tuesday night in the Region 4B Semifinal with a trip to the state tourney on the line, and Atlee girls volleyball, who has already clinched a berth in the Class 5 State Tournament, battled Matoaca at home Wednesday night for the Region 5B Championship and the right to host a state quarterfinal on Saturday.
For complete results and schedules for all three of our county volleyball teams remaining in competition, please consult the Herald Progress Facebook page.