JAMES RIVER GIRLS
Joe Sullivan is always nervous, at least when it comes to volleyball.
One may think that a coach with such a technical approach and sound understanding of the game wouldn’t be.
“I’m nervous the whole time, I’m always anxious to get here and get things started,” Sullivan said. “My daughter and I talked about it on the way to the game, I’m always nervous.”
Sullivan didn’t need to be Thursday night. James River cruised, using a typically strong defensive effort to sweep Cosby 3-0 to bring home the Conference 3 Championship.
“I love defense, I coach off a lot of read style defense,” Sullivan said. “We work on a lot of block timing- we’re always simulating other hitters whether it’s me with bad knees hitting at them or other coaches.”
Coach’s defensive style usually takes his teams a while to really understand and catch onto, but it appears as if it’s settled in at the right time in 2015.
It’s also not always about the scheme, it’s about the personnel, and the Rapids have it. Seniors Nicole Thomas (Baylor), Kendall Johnson (Shippensburg) and Alexia Wolfe (Randolph-Macon) along with Sara Kaskey and Allison Carmody execute the game plan very well.
“This is the best set of tandem middles I’ve had,” Sullivan said, speaking of Johnson and Thomas. “They are high level middles and that part of our game means a lot.”
Thomas and Johnson are tall, but it’s more than that. Both possess good athleticism, knowledge of the game and a strong offensive presence. They’ve worked to understand timing on getting blocks up.
“It’s really awesome to share the front line with such amazing athletes,” Johnson said. “We just feed off each other. It makes it really fun to play with them.”
The front line will look to continue the winning and fun on Monday at home against Woodbridge. A victory in this contest would advance James River a round further than last year.
JAMES RIVER BOYS
This year, they beat them three times if you count a victory at the Richmond Volleyball Club showcase tournament.
In terms of rivalry, James River and Cosby is one of the strongest the in the area. Neither team wants to be on the losing end, resulting in must-see games.
This time, the Rapids got the last laugh as they swept the Titans 3-0 in front of a raucous crowd at Chuck Collins gymnasium. Coach Michael Blankenbecler was satisfied with the performance, saying his team executed well in every possible area.
“We prepared to play against Cosby, we’ve watched film every time we’ve played them,” Blankenbecler said. “We know what they do, they know what we do, we executed very well.”
The student section at James River is named “The Flood.” Floods are known for washing things away and taking over, and that’s exactly what they did on an “Hawaiian Out” night.
“The fans are crucial,” Blankenbecler said. “They give us energy when we play, we hope they come out for our state semi-final game.”
James River is led by David Forrest, a solid front line player who blocks and attacks equally well. John Holaham compliments him from the outside hitter position. Kyle Brumbaugh, the team’s setter does much more than his core role, and despite being just 5’9 has shown a penchant for grabbing an occasional block.
“I’m just pretty good at jousting at the net,” Brumbaugh said.
With a defeat of Cosby in-hand and a berth to the 6A South State Semi-Finals on November 17, The Rapids will look to improve last year’s performance of state runner-up to 757 power Frank W. Cox.
“We knew we could get back here and get back to the state tournament,” Forrest said. “It was coach that really got us here. At the end of every huddle we say ‘states.’ That’s been the goal all year.”
A possible rematch with Frank W. Cox looms as James River will play the Conference 2 Champion on November 17. No matter the opponent, the Rapids and their fans will be ready to roll.
After losing three players to the college ranks in Courtney Wiseman, Julia Stech and Jessica Bradbury, L.C. Bird coach and 2015 Conference 12 coach of the year Caroline Brown had questions about her team.
Spoiler alert: since Brown won coach of the year, one might guess how the story ends.
The “core three” as Brown calls them- seniors Lache Harper, Taylor McNeely and Heidi Grossnickle, also with a little help from their friends in Jazzmine White, Nautica Jones and the rest of the Skyhawks brought home their second Conference 12 title in the past three years, defeating Matoaca 3-0.
“It was a goal of ours this season,” said Harper, an outside hitter. “We worked hard in practice and really came together and improved.”
L.C. Bird got off to a 5-0 start this season and played competitively, taking Cosby to five sets and defeating Midlothian, a sign that the program has improved. After the VHSL conferences realigned, the Lady Skyhawks brought home the first Conference 12 title in 2013. Last year, they were the runner-up to Clover Hill. Now they’re back and confident heading in the 5A South Region tournament, defeating Matoaca soundly.
“They came in like the knew they were going to win,” Brown said. “We got to the match a little late, got in a short warm-up, but the girls just played like everything was normal.”
The core three of Harper, McNeely and Grossnickle are a talented bunch- Harper figures to play Division I volleyball, while the 5-3 McNeely will play libero for Bridgewater. Grossnickle figures to play in the Division III ranks as a setter, the position she holds in high school.
Jones and White, in a way, came out of nowhere. Primarily basketball players most of their lives, both have recently dedicated themselves to volleyball. Jones has developed into a solid middle, while White had averaged about eight kills per match over the last five games.
“At first this season, we didn’t really know what to expect given the players we lost,” Grossnickle said. “Both of them (Nautica and Jazzmine) stepped up huge and we’re happy to have them on our team.”
L.C. Bird plays host to Douglas Freeman, the Conference 11 runner-up on Monday. Matoaca faces off with Conference 11 winner Mills Godwin.
By Cory Van Dyke
Midlothian has recently been a boy’s volleyball powerhouse, particularly last year when the Trojans took home the 4A State Title. This year’s team is looking to repeat on last year’s success by creating their own legacy. The Trojans completed step one of the mission when they defeated a tough Monacan squad 3-1 in the Conference 20 Championship.
Monacan came out the gates strong and gave Midlothian a wake up call by out hustling the Trojans and executing flawlessly to take the first set 25-19. After looking flat in the first set, Midlothian began to play with energy and swagger, thanks in part to the leadership and silky smooth celebration moves of outside hitter Nick Spichiger.
Midlothian made the necessary adjustments to reel off three straight sets and win the hardware by scores of 25-22, 25-13, and 25-18 respectively.
“We were a lot smarter with our hits,” said Spichiger. “They had a very solid block on us, so we changed our hitting, we changed our setting, and all a sudden just started playing a lot smarter.”
Spichiger finished with 12 kills, 5 blocks and 5 digs. Middle hitter Thomas Rysedorph tallied 7 kills and 8 blocks, while outside hitter Matt Lewandowski collected 7 kills and 5 blocks.
Next up for the Trojans is a trip to regionals where they have a home game against George Wythe on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in what appears to be a tuneup for Midlothian. In the regional final on Thursday at 7 p.m., the Trojans will face either Colonial Heights or have a rematch against Monacan.
“Monacan is a very good team,” said Coach Randy Cox. ”They’re tough, they’re resilient on defense, and I would not at all be surprised if we see them a couple more times this season.”
With only two games standing in their way from another trip to the 4A State Tournament, expectations are high for Midlothian, but they will have to remain focused on the task at hand.
“It’s hard to keep your energy up full time, but they have done a good job at that. This team runs on enthusiasm and energy,” said Cox. “I’m not going to change much, just try to keep them focused on the small parts of the game because that’s what wins it.”
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