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Goochland ready for region final rematch

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Goochland volleyball v. Western Albemarle

Goochland senior middle hitter Laura Lee Baldwin makes a hit on a ball in the team’s matchup versus Western Albemarle on Oct. 6.

For the Goochland Bulldogs volleyball team, which just won two regional tournament games to set up a matchup with Warren County for the Class 3, Region B crown, it’s hard not to get a sense of deja vu as the team looks ahead to its highly-anticipated championship bout.

After all, both Goochland and Warren County feature plenty of holdovers from last year’s rosters that remember all too well what each team is capable of and just how much of a fair matchup it is between the two squads.

Last season, facing off with a region title on the line, the Bulldogs surprised the Wildcats by railing off three straight set victories after going down in the first two sets to win in a thrilling finish capped off by a 15-10 tiebreaker set.

The year prior, the teams met in the regional semifinals, which again went in Goochland’s favor, though that time it’d take just three sets to find a victor.

With returning members of that team like Nina Smith and Nicole Brown having played both of those matchups, and plenty others part of last year’s wild finish with the Wildcats, the game feels almost like a reunion of regional giants at this point, with both already cemented into a spot in the Class 4 state tournament that starts later this month.

“Almost all of our starters have played in these situations before. Nina and Nicole specifically have played in these games two times before in their careers, their freshman year is the year that we went to the state semi-finals,” Goochland head coach Rachel Jacobsen said.

Layla Ford, Laura Lee Baldwin, Ava Garrison, Jordan Ware and Davianna Baugh were all part of the team when they played at Warren last season as well.

Building up to that rematch with Warren County was a first round slugfest that went down to five sets against Skyline on Nov. 1 and a quicker, more Bulldogs-dominant 3-0 win over James Monroe in the semifinals later in the week on Nov. 3.

Jacobsen says the Bulldogs demonstrated great resilience in their ability to learn from mistakes this season, and that they continue to uplift their teammates when things aren’t going their way.

“We’ve been working hard on communication and moving on from errors,” Jacobsen said. “The girls have really started to mesh here at the end of the season.”

That was evident in the win over Skyline (25-19, 23-25, 25-11, 18-25, 15-11), which saw Goochland trade sets back and forth up until the decisive fifth set, which it pulled off thanks to Smith’s strong 11-kill outing and Ford’s team-high 24 digs leading the way.

In the next game against James Monroe, who Goochland defeated on Aug. 30 in three sets for its third win of the season, the approach was less of focusing on how James Monroe might have adjusted from the earlier meeting, but on how Goochland could adjust from a near-upset in the opening round versus Skyline.

To Jacobsen and her team, the mentality was that James Monroe may as well have been a team they’d never met before.

That game, which saw sets of 25-20, 25-22 and 25-13, featured timely contributions from Baldwin and Avery Jastrzemski as attackers over the net, with Baldwin adding seven kills and Jastrzemski adding six.

Brown’s playmaking was also in top form, as she added a team-leading 13 assists while also leading the team in digs with 12.

Now with Warren County on the mind and a chance at yet another region title, Goochland’s focus is on setting the tone early and making sure its opponent plays to its pace.

“Our big focus right now is earning points and controlling our game,” Jacobsen said. “At this point in the season the focus should be honing skills, but more importantly on keeping calm in tough situations. Volleyball is mostly a mental game, so I feel keeping our heads is going to win us games more often than not.”

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