The number “2” wasn’t quite as photogenic as “40” on Thursday, but it was exactly what the Battlefield Bobcats needed to earn their first state berth in volleyball history.
About 15 minutes after they beat Colonial Forge 3-1 in the semifinals of the Class 6 Region B tournament, the Bobcats gathered at the north end of their gym to pose with a poster board cutout of “40”. That represented the incredible number of consecutive sets won by Battlefield.
It was a nice commemoration, but the Bobcats actually left that gym with only a two-set winning streak because the Eagles beat them in the second set Thursday after Battlefield entered the evening with a 39-set winning streak. That rare loss, however, seemed to galvanize the Bobcats. They responded by dominating the third and fourth sets for a 25-20, 21-25, 25-16, 25-15 victory.
“I think it made us fired up,” Battlefield outside hitter Julianna Quintero said. “It made me want to show who we are. … We wanted to crush their hope.”
Second-seeded Battlefield (18-2) did, in fact, end the season for No. 3 Colonial Forge (23-7) and advance to play Tuesday in the region final against No. 4 Massaponax, which defeated No. 8 Patriot in the semifinals.
More importantly, the Bobcats qualified for the state tournament for the first time since the school opened in 2004. That seemed especially special for Battlefield’s lone senior starter, setter Kat Jenks.
“It’s nice to finish out with a bang, really making history for our school,” she said. “We have potential to do amazing; potential to go all the way. To see that being reached would be amazing.”
The Bobcats will begin state play Nov. 16 with a match in the Class 6 quarterfinals.
“That means everything,” Battlefield coach Abby Mills said of the state berth. “Every single point and every single minute of practice meant something. We worked hard and we got to our end goal.”
So the Bobcats will soon vie for the first region championship in program history after they recently won the Cedar Run District regular season and tournament titles. They will enter the region final with a 15-match winning streak even though they lost a set Thursday for the first time since Sept. 23.
“I think it’s good that we lost,” Mills said. “I think we were getting a little bit in our heads [thinking] that we were untouchable.
“I told them, “Forty’s a cool number,’” she said of talking in Battlefield’s huddle between the second and third sets Thursday. “I don’t think anybody’s ever going to do that again, and that's all that matters.”
Battlefield fell behind 8-3 early in that second set and never led despite tying the score 11-11. Forge led only 21-20 late in the set before finishing on a 4-1 run with a pair of aces.
“It made me a little relieved to not have to worry about the streak, and to know we can just play,” Jenks said. “It’s nice to have that not weighing on us.”
That loss briefly carried over into the third set. Forge took an early 2-0 lead, but Battlefield then gained the advantage for good at 4-3 with three consecutive kills by Hillarie Adams, who had four kills in that third set. Quintero added eight kills in the set with two from Emma Morris.
That diverse attack gave the Eagles some trouble after they won the Commonwealth District regular season championship and finished as the tournament runner-up to North Stafford, the 2018 Class 5 state runner-up.
“We have a really strong district,” Colonial Forge coach Courtney Hempe said. “Our conference has dominant single players, so it was a bit tougher to game plan against a solid attack all the way around.”
The Bobcats also had a dominant player, though. Quintero finished the night with nearly twice as many kills as any other player on the court. She amassed 24 over the four sets.
“She won us that game,” Mills said. “JuJu (Quintero) brings this different kind of energy. … She’s the kind of girl that everybody feeds off of. When she’s hot, we’re hot.”
Morris added 10 kills for Battlefield while Adams had nine with three each from Merom Arthur and Hanna Nelson. Yet Quintero led the Bobcats offensively in each set.
“I wasn’t looking to be cute or anything,” she said of her swings. “I just wanted those points.”
Early in the third set, Jenks sent five consecutive sets toward Quinerto. The outside hitter responded by going 5-for-5 on her swings for three points and an 11-6 lead.
“I think she’s amazing every game, but she was on fire today,” said Jenks, who finished with 41 assists. “When I see those high hands, I keep feeding her.
“She showed me that I made good decisions,” the setter said with a smile.
The Bobcats often used cross-court shots to exploit Forge’s defensive strategy. They usually excel at swinging down the sidelines, but Mills found a potential weak spot in the Eagles’ blocking scheme, so Battlefield practiced those cross-court angles all week.
“That was very had to defend,” Hempe said. “We hadn’t seen any outsides hit a hard cross ball like [Quintero]. She’s very crafty.”
Adams scored on a handful of cross-court shots, too, but the Bobcats didn’t perfectly execute Mills’ game plan all night. So Forge’s HaleyAnn Smalls finished with four blocks while Joselyn Jones and Loren Bell had three each with one apiece from Paityn Walker, Baylie Ostvig and Kailey Schoolfield.
“I think we really dominated the middle game against them,” Hempe said. “It just came down to our serve-pass was not as good as their serve-pass.”
Battlefield finished with 11 aces, including four from Ella Yates, three from Morris and two from Quintero.
Arthur led the Bobcats with three blocks, while Smalls had 14 kills for Forge with eight from Walker, seven from Ostvig, six from Schoolfield and five from Bell. Walker also had 32 assists while Ostvig had three aces with two each from Smalls and Bell.
“Definitely one of the top teams we’ve played,” Mills said of Forge. “With our schedule being so Prince William County-heavy, you only see a couple of really strong teams throughout the season, which I think hurts us.
“We’d been talking about it since the streak” of set victories grew longer, she said. “You know: ‘Somebody’s going to come up and step on us and we have to learn to fight back.”
The Bobcats did exactly that Thursday. So they could play as many as three more games at home this postseason, depending how the region and state brackets play out.
“I just love playing with such an amazing team,” Quintero said. “We made history, and we’re continuing. It’s the fall sport to see – Battlefield volleyball.”