In the animal kingdom, dolphins are ranked among the best swimmers. Ocean Lakes, who’s mascot is the Dolphins, just couldn’t handle the Rapids.
James River drowned Ocean Lakes 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-16) on Friday, winning the 6A State Championship Friday, their third state championship in the past six years.
“It was just an incredible feeling to have put in so much hard work since August and be able to accomplish our goal,” said Conference 3 Player of the Year Kyle Brumbaugh. “We set our expectations high and reached them; it’s a testament to how good a team we had.”
The Rapids’ straight set victory was a convincing one, including that convincing 25-16 third set victory. The balanced attack of James River is what coach Michael Blankenbecler considered a key for the success this season.
“We are led by our senior captains of David Forrest (236 kills), John Holahan (225 kills) and Chris Ward (191 kills),” said Blankenbecler. “We have a three-headed monster of captains and with role players like Hampton McClellan (98 kills) and Bryan Pinney, we’re well-rounded.”
With a talented group of athletes striking the ball, the quarterback of the volleyball offense is the setter, Brumbaugh. Despite being a junior, he’s been an integral part of James River’s program the past three years. Brumbaugh plays with confidence and heart, often jousting at the net with larger players (Kyle is 5-9) and winning points for his team. His biggest impact however, comes in practice.
“He coaches as much as I do in practice,” Blankenbecler said. “I play a lot at practice so I can’t see everything. Players know that if Kyle is giving them instruction, it’s something they need to work on.”
That leadership on the floor also extends to Holahan, who’s a versatile player in his own right. He’s a capable setter, passes well, plays great defense and also generates offense. In the state championship game, he tallied 20 digs. Brumbaugh’s and Holahan’s understanding of the game enabled them to not only help teach, but explain why the adjustments were needed.
“John and Kyle both know the game way better than a lot of the rest of us,” Forrest said. “So they really use their volleyball IQ to help the rest of us perform at our best- the team trusts them both.”
Blankenbecler, who won a state championship playing volleyball at Thomas Dale in 2007, earned a distinct honor by becoming the first person to win state crowns as both a player and a coach.
With one of the best volleyball programs in the area, James River will look to reload next season and bump, set and spike their way to another deep postseason run.