RICHMOND, Va. — For Gate City, forging a championship-caliber volleyball team is a year-round process, made up of countless hours of practice and preparation.
When the Lady Blue Devils stepped on the court Saturday to play for a state title, it took little more than an hour to complete the feat.
Gate City rallied to win the first game, then went on to dismantle Strasburg in a 25-23, 25-17, 25-10 sweep of the VHSL Group A state finals at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
“There’s definitely a lot of hard work and determination and drills and sweat. And then it’s over,” Gate City coach Amy Reed said. “Life’s too short.”
The wait between state titles proved lengthy for the Lady Devils (25-1). Though this is Gate City’s third crown in five years, it’s the first since 2005. Setter Chelsea Spivey and libero Megan Reed, two of six seniors on this squad, were on that 2005 team.
“It’s a great feeling,” Spivey said. “That picture will be on the wall (at Gate City) forever.”
At times, the Lady Devils’ play resembled a work of art. Gate City struggled in the early going yet again, however, and played catchup in the entire first game before finally forcing a 23-23 tie. Just like that, a shanked pass by Strasburg and a Lindsey Burke ace helped the Lady Devils claim the game and the early match advantage.
From there, Gate City went to work, playing efficient and impressive volleyball. The Lady Devils leapt out to a 6-0 lead in the second game, and Strasburg got no closer than a four-point deficit.
“I was really proud of the back row,” said Gate City senior Jennifer Lewis. “The passes? Spot on tonight. The serving? Spot on. It was great.”
Lewis held serve as part of a spirit-crushing run by the Lady Devils in the third game, which saw Gate City open a 17-6 advantage.
“By the time I came up, they were pretty much well broken,” Lewis observed.
The run with Lewis on serve withered what confidence Strasburg had left. Even some of the Rams’ outspoken fans became cranky.
“This is your last game. Play like it!” one teenager in a contingent of purple-clad Strasburg students yelled out late in the third set.
A kill by Lewis clinched that it would indeed be the end of the road for Strasburg, and sparked the beginning of a celebration by the Lady Devils.
As Gate City asserted its will, it spoke volumes that some of the biggest statistical contributions came from underclassmen. Sophomore Ashton Dougherty paced the Lady Devils with 10 kills. Burke and Brittany Simpson, both juniors, added seven kills apiece.
“It proved to everybody that Gate City’s not going anywhere,” senior middle Tessa Burton said of the youngsters’ big effort.
Amy Reed cited program philosophy as one factor in that performance.
“Our junior varsity traveled with us. It’s crucial they see what the level of competition is, what standards they have to meet,” the coach said. “I brought eight eighth-graders and a seventh- grader. Their mouths are watering right now.”
Three years ago, Simpson was one of those eighth-graders and acknowledged that eyewitness experience helped.
“Coming into this, I knew we had to step up,” said Simpson, who added a brace of blocks. “We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Jenna Smoot paced Strasburg with seven kills.
Lewis had eight kills for Gate City and fellow senior Burton contributed four kills and six blocks. Spivey, considered one of the elite setters in the state at any level, primed the action on nearly every successful attack for the Lady Devils.
Though trips to this stage have become old hat for Gate City, it seems winning is an achievement that never could get old.
“No words explain it,” said Simpson, who had one last word as she finished a quick conversation with two reporters:
“See you back here next year.”
At this point, that’s become expected.