Volleyball Preview: Four Teams Vying for District Supremacy

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Warhill volleyball team posing
Warhill’s volleyball team finished last season nationally ranked. (file photo)

With Warhill, Jamestown and Grafton coming off seasons in which they reached their respective state tournaments — and Warhill winning its first state title — the Bay Rivers District appears to once again be loaded with volleyball talent in the Historic Triangle.

Warhill, which finished last season nationally ranked by MaxPreps, and Jamestown are coming off a season in which the two schools split the Bay Rivers District as co-champions.

Both teams return All-State caliber players and should once again be primed to battle it out for the top spot.

Lafayette and Grafton also expect to be in the mix for the Bay Rivers District this year after strong postseason runs by both teams last year.

Bruton, Tabb and York all struggled in the Bay Rivers District last year, but the Panthers were able to make a deep postseason run in their conference.

While the Tigers return five starters from last year, Bruton and York are welcoming in new head coaches who bring a bit of uncertainty to the season outlooks for both teams.

Below are previews for Historic Triangle volleyball teams:

Group 4A

Grafton

Head Coach: Karissa Ball
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 20-7
Players to Watch: Rachel Blitt (senior – OH/MB), Sophia Beaudoin (senior – OH), Kaitlyn Young (senior – S), Samantha Heard (junior – MB)

Season Outlook: Coming off a 3-0 loss to James Wood High in the Virginia High School League Group 4A state semifinal, Grafton is hoping to advance to the state tournament once again. Making a return to the state tournament will not be easy for the Clippers, who have to replace All-State player Christa Hall, who graduated in June. Despite losing her best player, Ball thinks her returning players can pick up where last year’s team left off. Blitt, a first-team All-Region outside hitter and middle blocker, will provide utility on offense and defense. Beaudoin, whom Ball called the most explosive athlete on the team, will be called on to lead the team as a senior captain and a four-year starter. With a combination of skill and size, the Clippers should be one of the premier teams in the Bay Rivers District.

Jamestown

Head Coach: Tom Stephenson
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 24-5
Players to Watch: Maria Esch (junior – OH), Ellie Popelka (junior – MH), Emma Schriner (sophomore – MH), Maggie Viniard (junior – S)

Season Outlook: The winners of four consecutive Bay Rivers District championships, Jamestown is looking to reach the state tournament for the fifth consecutive year and capture an elusive state title. The Eagles will be led this year by Esch and Popelka, a pair of junior first-team All-State selections who stand above six feet tall. Stephenson said the Eagles return their primary passer in senior libero Gen Allison, who was named a second-team All-State selection. When paired with senior Madison Spence and Schriner, a 6-foot-3 middle hitter, the Eagles should have one of the best starting rotations in the Bay Rivers District. Stephenson said Jamestown expects to contend for another district championship and reach the state championship match for the third time in the past five years.

Lafayette

Head Coach: Keith Nowadly
2015 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2014 Record: 21-7
Players to Watch: Abby Oren (junior – OH), Julia Howard (senior – S), Madison Vandall (senior – DS), Lindsay Wainwright (senior – DS)

Season Outlook: Lafayette is coming off a season in which the Rams lost a tough 3-2 match to Kettle Run in the 3A East volleyball tournament. The Rams will face a new set of challenges this year as they make the jump to Group 4A, becoming the smallest 4A school in the state. Nowadly thinks his team is up to the task with five seniors and a first-team All-State outside hitter returning in Oren. The Rams have the size and experience to remain competitive with almost any opponent they could face this season, but Nowadly is concerned about the lack of a solid middle blocker. Nowadly is hoping transfer Madison Bauer, a 6-foot-1 sophomore with a long wing span who is playing varsity volleyball for the first time, can evolve into a reliable piece of Lafayette’s starting six. If the Rams can shore up the middle, they could be poised for another deep postseason run.

Group 3A

Tabb

Head Coach: Mike Honeycutt
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2014 Record: 5-17
Players to Watch: Abigail Carney (junior – S), Ashley Muhich (junior – L), Madi Dadez (senior – OH/MB), Audre’ana Ellis (junior – OH)

Season Outlook: Tabb returns five starters from last year’s team that posted a disappointing 5-17 record. With so much experience returning, second-year head coach Honeycutt expects this year’s team to be more talented and well-rounded. Carney and Dadez, a second-team All-Conference player last season, will be expected to lead this year’s group. A big concern for Honeycutt is Tabb’s overall size. The Tigers do not have a player on their roster taller than 5-foot-10 and will need to rely on solid defensive play along the back line to stay in games.

Warhill

Head Coach: Greg Koon
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 25
2014 Record: 30-1
Players to Watch: Nicole Mulligan (senior – MB/OH), Hannah Cormier (senior – MB/MH), Jewel Walters (junior – L), Cori Clifton (junior – RS)

Season Outlook: Warhill’s 2014 volleyball team handed the school its first state championship in any sport while holding an impressive 30-1 record. The Lions return a trio of first-team All-State players in Mulligan, Clifton and Walters. Mulligan finished 2014 with nearly 100 aces and 177 kills, while Clifton logged 220 kills, 244 digs and 420 assists. Walters will once again be one of the defensive leaders for Warhill coming off a season in which she recorded 459 digs. And while Warhill returns six players from last year’s nationally ranked volleyball team, the Lions will have to figure out how to replace Group 3A All-State Player of the Year Alex Koon, who holds the Bay Rivers District record for career kills. Greg Koon, the reigning Group 3A Coach of the Year, said his team will be successful if the veteran players can maintain the unity that helped carry the Lions through last year’s postseason.

 

York

Head Coach: Sharon Grunthaner
2015 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2014 Record: 5-20
Players to Watch: MacKenzie Chaffin (senior – OH), Trinity choice (senior – MB), Aniyah Hubert (junior – OH), Sophia Pereira (junior – L)

Season Outlook: Coming off a 5-20 record last season, Sharon Grunthaner – in her first year as head coach – said most coaches would call this season a rebuilding year. She believes this year’s Falcons team could be more competitive and surprise a few teams in the Bay Rivers District. York will be led by senior captain Chaffin, an outside hitter that Grunthaner said brings tremendous leadership to the Falcons. The other captain for York is Pereira, a junior who Grunthaner said possesses a potent service game. With only one underclassman on the roster, York should be in a position to improve from last season’s mark.

Group 2A

Bruton

Head Coach: Kevin Doloresco
2015 Classification: 2A Conference 33
2014 Record: 15-16
Players to Watch: Gabby Calloway (sophomore – OH), Aaliyah Bartlett (senior – S), Allison Arbogast (senior – S/MH), Mykael Johnson (junior – OH)

Season Outlook: Despite a 15-16 record last year, the Panthers were one game short of reaching the Group 2A state tournament, losing to Luray 3-2 in the 2A East semifinals. Unfortunately for first-year head coach Kevin Doloresco, the Panthers return only two players from last year’s team. Calloway, a first-team All-State outside hitter, and Bartlett, the only returning senior from last year, will be crucial if Bruton wants to make another deep postseason run. Doloresco said Calloway has the talent to play in college, while referring to Bartlett as the “glue to stabilizing the young group.” Beyond those two players, Bruton is calling up 11 players from the junior varsity team to fill out the roster. Despite the relative inexperience on Bruton’s team, Doloresco said he expects his team to compete for a state championship this year at the 2A level.