Entering Saturday afternoon’s Class 3 volleyball matinee at the Hidden Valley gym, the Titan varsity volleyball team hadn’t lost a match in 361 days.
That loss, in last year’s state Class 3 semifinal, came at the hands of the same opponent, the Rustburg Red Devils, who were heading to Southwest Roanoke County on Saturday looking to knock Hidden Valley from the state playoffs for the fourth straight year.
This time around, the Titans stopped the trend.
Masterfully taking control in all three sets, Hidden Valley methodically pulled away for the 25-18; 25-18; 25-15 sweep of the Red Devils to advance to Tuesday’s state semifinal match against Region 3C champions, the Fort Defiance Indians.
Like Hidden Valley with their mother-daughter combination, Titan head coach Carla Ponn and her sophomore superstar daughter Caleigh, Rustburg had enjoyed the same mom-daughter combo the previous 4 years in Red Devil head coach Kristen Hardie and her daughter, Kate, After Rustburg’s state championship last November, Kate Hardie graduated and moved on to play beach volleyball for Mercer University in Georgia, while Kristen stepped down with her daughter’s departure.
But Rustburg hadn’t lost much punch under new head coach Kirstie Pouncy, and the Red Devils entered Saturday’s showdown with a 27-2 record.
In the opening set, both teams enjoyed 2-point leads in the early going before Hidden Valley pushed an 8-7 lead with 5 straight scores to go up 13-7. The Titans eventually increased their margin to 19-12, and Rustburg could get no closer than 4 the rest of the way.
The second set was similar. The Titans jumped out to a quick 5-1 advantage keyed by a back-in-your-face block by junior outside hitter Shae Torrence before Rustburg rallied to go up 9-8. Hidden Valley went on a 9-2 run for a 17-11 lead, and Rustburg could not get closer than 4 points the rest of the way to close out the second straight 25-18 final.
Rustburg, looking for a comeback in the third set, scored the first two points but the Titans righted the ship to lead 13-10 by mid-set. Hidden Valley, led by Caleigh Ponn then threw the knockout punch, reeling off a 10-1 blitz that had the Titans on the doorstep of a sweep with the 23-11 lead. The Red Devils had one last gasp to get to 24-15, but Hidden Valley scored the match-point winner off the next Red Devil serve.
Caleigh Ponn led Hidden Valley with 22 kills and 10 digs. Junior Lauren Whitaker brought up 12 digs, while sophomore Calli Anderson provided 23 assists and 7 digs.