Although Jamestown’s volleyball team had already booked a trip to next week’s 4A state tournament, Eagles coach Tom Stephenson had no reason to worry about his team finding motivation for Thursday’s 4A South Region championship game against Grafton.
Not only are bragging rights always on the line when the two Bay Rivers District rivals meet, but the winner of Thursday’s regional final would also not have to face defending AA state champion Loudoun County in the state semifinals.
With all of that in mind, Jamestown seized the momentum early and used a sound effort to earn a three-set victory on their home floor and clinch the program’s third-consecutive regional title.
“We knew it was going to be tough to beat a team four times in a row,” Jamestown senior Victoria Bowen said after the game. “And we knew [Grafton] was going to come in here pumped up, so we talked before the match about playing our game, and I think we executed really well.”
The game plan, Bowen and her fellow senior captains Kelly Esch and Monique St. Cyr said, was to keep the ball away from Grafton standout hitter Kendall Mahony. For the most part, they succeeded as the Clippers struggled with their passing off serves. Mahony still managed to post a game-high 16 kills since every ball Grafton did manage to send her way usually ended with a powerful spike.
The Eagles were led at the net by sisters Kelly and Maria Esch, who finished with 14 and 11 kills, respectively, most of which were set up by St. Cyr, who finished with 32 assists. Kelly Esch and Bowen turned in strong defensive performances as well with 12 digs apiece.
“It was a total team effort,” St. Cyr said. “Everyone chipped in in some way.”
The first set was back and forth until Tess Anderson reeled off six-straight service points to give the Eagles a 22-13 cushion.
Facing set point, Grafton mounted a brief comeback as Christa Hall served four-consecutive points to bring the Clippers within four, 24-20, before Maria Esch tucked a cross-court kill into the back-left corner to give the Eagles a 25-20 win.
“It’s the most important set because whoever wins has the momentum and it puts the other team on their toes,” St. Cyr said. “Whoever wins the first set usually wins the game.”
The second set was just as tight as the first before Jamestown freshman Ellie Popelka, with the Eagles clinging to a 21-18 advantage, delivered one of the more memorable moments of the match in the form of a punishing spike that bounced off a Grafton player’s face and out of bounds. The play fired up Jamestown — the bench nearly erupted onto the court — and sparked the Eagles to a 25-20 win.
The third and final set was never really in doubt as Grafton seemed to be running on an empty tank.
Megan Sullivan and Maria Esch exchanged long runs at the service line as Jamestown grabbed a 21-12 lead before walking off the court for good with a 25-15 victory.
“I told the girls I would have walked out of the gym completely happy with their effort after the first two games,” Grafton coach Karissa Cumberbatch said. “But after that it felt like we quit.”
Cumberbatch says her team will have plenty of time to regroup before taking the court against reigning state champ Loudoun County at 1 p.m. Thursday at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
Jamestown, making its third-straight state tournament appearance, will take on 4A North Region runner-up James Wood at 3 p.m. at VCU.
“We’re excited to be back,” Kelly Esch said. “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Jamestown def. Grafton 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-15)
Jamestown (27-1)- K. Esch 14 kills, 12 digs, 1.5 blocks; St. Cyr 32 assists, 11 digs; M. Esch 11 kills; Bowen 12 digs
Grafton (21-6)- Mahony 16 kills, 3 blocks; Beaudoin 8 kills, 8 digs; Williams 16 digs