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Jamestown and Grafton demonstrated why they are among the premier volleyball programs along the Peninsula during Thursday's Conference 18 championship match.
In what has become one of the best rivalries in the Bay Rivers District, Jamestown and Grafton squared off for the third time this season — this time with a conference championship on the line.
After four grueling sets, Jamestown got the better of Grafton and took home the conference crown by a final score of 18-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18. The conference championship is Jamestown's third in as many years.
"It feels great," said Jamestown Coach Tom Stephenson about repeating as conference champions. "It's very gratifying, but we knew, win or lose, we would be playing Monday. We just prefer to be conference champions."
The opening set started as a back-and-forth affair between two hard-hitting offenses. There was little separation early as Jamestown held a 9-6 lead through the first 15 points.
Grafton brought the set back within striking distance and eventually tied the score at 12-12. Leading 14-13, the Clippers strung together a 4-0 run to pull away from Jamestown. Grafton used the buffer to cruise during the first set 25-18.
"[Jamestown wasn't] passing well, and we were serving pretty tough," said Grafton Coach Karissa Cumberbatch said of the opening set.
The Eagles started the second set on a 3-0 run, but saw their lead evaporate as Grafton responded with a 3-0 run of its own. The two teams traded points until the match was tied at 15-15.
With Grafton leading 17-15, Jamestown reeled off six consecutive points to take a 21-17 lead. Grafton gave Jamestown a scare as the Lions cut a 23-18 deficit to 23-21 and forced the Eagles to take a timeout. Jamestown calmed down after the timeout and won back-to-back points to tie the match at 1-1.
Stephenson said his team's improved play in the second set was not a result of tactical adjustments, but rather encouraging his team to match Grafton's emotional intensity from the first set.
Jamestown carried its momentum from the second set into the third. Tied with Grafton 3-3, Jamestown put together a 5-0 run to take an 8-3 lead.
The Eagles led by as much as five points before Grafton pulled within two points at 12-10. Jamestown responded by winning four of the next five points and taking command of the set 16-11.
Grafton was able to pull within two points of the Eagles late in the set, but Jamestown fended off the rally and closed the set 25-21.
Jamestown saved its best performance of the night for the fourth set as the Eagles pulled away from Grafton late.
Similar to the first three sets, Jamestown and Grafton were tied midway through the set at 14-14 before the Eagles pulled away.
A four-point spurt from Jamestown gave the Eagles some breathing room before using a pair of 2-0 runs to slowly widen the gap between the two teams.
Leading Grafton 22-18, Jamestown won three consecutive points to close out the set and match.
After the conclusion of the match, Cumberbatch huddled both teams together at mid-court to heap praise upon the players from both Grafton and Jamestown for their performances during the match.
"I've lived here for five or six years now and that is by far the best volleyball match I've ever seen," Cumberbatch said. "We've been battling with them for years and years, and I just wanted to call them in and tell them ... I have mad respect for what they do as a volleyball program and I hope they do for us as well. We are the two on this side of the state that play at a level nobody else is able to do at this point."
Both Jamestown and Grafton will advance to play in Monday's Group 4A East tournament.
Jamestown (21-3) will host Deep Creek in the Group 4A East quarterfinal round, while Grafton (18-7) will travel to take on Great Bridge.
Jamestown def. Grafton 18-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18
Jamestown: Ellie Popelka (17 kills, 3 blocks, 2 aces), Maria Esch (16 digs, 13 kills, 6 aces), Maggie Viniard (47 assists, 15 digs, 5 aces)
Grafton: Rachel Blitt (12 kills, 10 digs, 2 aces), Sophia Beaudoin (20 digs, 7 kills, 3 blocks), Kaitlyn Young (37 assists, 14 digs, 3 kills, 1 block)
Warhill Claims Conference 25 Crown
Warhill's volleyball team collected its third consecutive Conference 25 championship Thursday when the Lions downed Poquoson on the road 25-23, 27-29, 25-21, 25-18.
Led by Nicole Mulligan, who posted a career-high 27 kills and seven digs, Warhill was able to get past the Islanders by two points in the opening set.
A marathon second set that lasted 56 points went the way of Poquoson 29-27 and tying the match at 1-1 overall.
The Lions picked up its play significantly over the final two sets, defeating Poquoson by four and seven points, respectively, en route to the Conference 25 championship.
Two Warhill players logged double-doubles during the win. Chloe Wilmoth had 27 assists and 16 kills to go with seven digs and two aces, while Cori Clifton logged 25 assists and 10 kills, as well as nine digs.
Warhill (16-5) will host the winner of Spotsylvania and Armstrong, who are squaring off in the Conference 26 championship match, during Monday's Group 3A East quarterfinal round.
Warhill def. Poquoson 25-23, 27-29, 25-21, 25-18
Warhill: Nicole Mulligan (27 kills, 7 digs, 2 aces, 2 blocks), Chloe Wilmoth (27 assists, 16 kills, 7 digs, 2 aces), Cori Clifton (25 assists, 10 kills, 9 digs, 3 blocks)