Boys' volleyball sweeps division, advances to final-round playoffs
MAY 17, KENNEDY--
The last time Blair's boys volleyball team went to the final round of county playoffs in 1999, they took home the trophy. This year, they are poised to repeat that triumph once again: The Blazers defeated the Kennedy Cavaliers 25-19, 18-25, 25-17, 22-25 and 15-12 in an intense, two-hour semifinal playoff game, moving on to the final round with a season record of 12-3.
The Blazers have picked up considerably after their lackluster finish in the regular season, in which Blair lost three of their last four games by increasingly wide margins. Kennedy, in fact, served Blair the second of those three losses, a 1-3 defeat marked by Blair inconsistency and inability to push past the Cavaliers' block.
But after knocking Churchill, the team that had started Blair on its losing streak and was widely perceived as its greatest challenger for the county title, out of playoffs on May 12, the Blazers were ready to avenge the rest of their regular-season losses with a second victory against the Cavaliers. Kennedy was just as determined to repeat its regular-season win against Blair, however, and the result was an incredible game of volleyball that kept both teams and audiences on their toes until the very last point.
After being rejected time and again by Kennedy's strong block two weeks earlier, the Blazers entered this game with a revamped offensive lineup that proved much more effective as the matches went on. With senior Randy Li moved to the middle and sophomore Jay Chang playing all-around as an outside, senior setter Paul Wong found himself with many more options for running plays, and the Cavaliers quickly realized the impossibilities of shutting down so many Blair hits this time around.
"Last time, [Kennedy] beat us because they could tell where the ball was going and double block," Li explained. This time around, Li adds, Blair outsides Chang and senior James Lee found much less opposition to their hits, because "I kept their middle glued to me because when they didn't block me, I made them pay."
And pay they did; though Kennedy managed to stay even with Blair on the scoreboard until midway through the first game, the Blazers broke away at 14 and served up two runs that sent the score to 20-16. Kennedy tried to fight back, but their starting right-side hitter rolled his ankle while fighting at the net for a tip that would become Blair's 21st point. Their focus shaken by their teammate's injury, the Cavaliers fumbled several plays and send a hit out of bounds with the score at 24-19, giving Blair the first match.
Kennedy pulled itself together for the second match, however; the Blazers began the game down 3-1, with two straight hits going out-of-bounds in the same spot, and never managed to hold a lead for more than a few plays. While the Blazers missed several serves and found themselves late on the block, Kennedy played a strong and fairly consistent game that gave them a few extra points, and the Blazers could not stage a comeback in time to salvage the match.
The third match was, despite the final score, much closer than either the first or second in terms of sheer playing ability. The Blazers took a 7-3 lead early on in the game, but Kennedy then tied the score at 7-7… and 9-9, 10-10, 12-12 and 14-14. The Cavaliers held the lead for a single play, after a Blair fumble tipped the score to 15-14 in Kennedy's favor, but the Blazers broke away after that with two strong runs that, despite a few Kennedy points along the way, sealed the match in Blair's favor.
The fourth match began much like the third had, but this time, it was Kennedy that took the lead as the score crept up into the teens. The Blazers' passing, which had been strong all night, hit a rocky patch, and the Cavaliers were able to pound a few solid kills past Blair's defenses. The uneven passing also made it more difficult for Wong to set flexibly, which in turn hampered Blair's hitters and further gave Kennedy an edge.
According to Wong, the Blazers may also have been hampered a bit in the fourth game by their own mentalities. "Churchill was like our huge rival, so we were really pumped for that game," he explained, contrasting the Blazers' shakier moments of playing against their more solid game against the Bulldogs. "But Kennedy was not so much of a rival, so it was harder getting momentum and keeping it."
After a Blair net resulted in the need for a fifth game, however, the Blazers finally regained the momentum that had pushed them to triumph over Churchill. With both teams playing their hearts out, the score remained neck-and-neck until Blair suddenly pulled away on a 12-7 run, setting the Blazers up for what seemed to be certain victory. Ten minutes and several Blair fumbles later, however, Kennedy had erased Blair's 5-point lead and held the serve with the score even at 13-12.
The Cavaliers chose that moment to choke, however, sending their final serve of the night into the net and giving Blair a 14-12 lead. Less than a minute later, senior Jansen Sheng sent a kill over the net, sealing Blair's victory and securing the Blazers' spot in the 2005 County Championship game.
According to Lee, Blair's victory over Kennedy, though not as clean as it could have been, was still immensely gratifying for the Blazers. "We knew what we wanted from today's game, and we went and got it," he explained. "This is what we've been waiting for all season, and this is what we play the game for."
Whether or not they take home the county trophy, the Blazers will end this season with a second straight divisional title. They will compete against Sherwood in the final round of playoffs at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 19 at Magruder.
Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to ... More »