Sports Preview: Volleyball teams ready to set and spike

Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 10:57 am

When last we left volleyball, the Atlee girls team left the floor of the Siegel Center, falling one point short of winning the State Group AAA Championship before falling in five sets to Kellam.

This fall brings change, with the loss of several star players, but many returning, as Hanover’s high schools each vie for playoff glory in the new VHSL format.

BOYS

Patrick Henry's Austin Pace goes to the net against Lee-Davis's Clayton Marshall during scrimmage play.

Patrick Henry’s Austin Pace goes to the net against Lee-Davis’s Clayton Marshall during scrimmage play.

Patrick Henry (16-5) was a pleasant surprise in 2012, taking unbeaten Douglas Freeman to five sets on the road and upsetting Deep Run on Senior Night. The Patriots lose two players, Scott Brigham and Hunter Taylor, both of whom now play at Eastern Mennonite University.

Head Coach Michael Townsend looks to returnees Holden Samuels, Sam Boyd, Will Burch, Cowles McCray, Ian Miller and Austin Pace. Samuels and Burch will join senior standout Lucas Pienkowski, in his fourth year on varsity, as team leaders. Garrett Reese and Chase Buchanan lead a group of seven newcomers, all juniors.

“Our passing and defense will be our biggest focus this year. I truly believe we have a very solid team and hold very high expectations,” Townsend said.

The Patriots fell in a very close five-set scrimmage Monday night to rival Lee-Davis, who are counting on libero Ryan Anderson, Clayton Marshall, and Carson Claudell to lead the Confederates. Coach Sally Sanders will also look to Daniel Abbott, Jordan Lafferty, Parker Binner and Seth Price for this season of transition.

Overshadowed by their girls team’s success, Atlee’s boys squad went 23-5 in 2012, but lost a ton of talent to graduation. Nine players are gone, including leaders Rashan Winters, Matt Rohr and Emre Erchelebi.

A rebuilding season for the Raiders begins with returning players Joseph Golding, Jacob Golding, and Matt Raab. Newcomers Jeremy Eye, Eric Rohr, Chui Elliott and Owen Ward will have ample opportunity for playing time. Head Coach Nick Robinson has a proper perspective entering 2013.

“You don’t have to play beautiful volleyball to win. You just have to score more points,” Robinson said. “We need to minimize mistakes that costs us points as we are incredibly inexperienced, starting three sophomores in key positions.”

The Hanover boys team did not return requested information by press time. We do know Drew Hazelgrove will return. This second team all-region selection will head up a young but very promising squad.

Boys volleyball has a different postseason format than most VHSL sports under the new reclassification plan. Teams are placed in one of two “zones,” Central or Eastern. Atlee and Lee-Davis are in Central Zone 3, which consists of the eight teams in Conference 11. Patrick Henry is in Central Zone 4, which includes Clover Hill, L.C. Bird, Manchester, Matoaca, Meadowbrook, and Prince George. Hanover is in Central Zone 5, which includes all fellow Conference 20 brethren except Caroline.

The Atlee and Lee-Davis boys begin their seasons on Tuesday, and several of the county teams will participate in the 16th Annual Virginia Volleyball Showcase Labor Day Weekend at the Richmond Volleyball Club on Byrdhill Road in the West End.

GIRLS

Atlee (31-3, state runner-up) will miss stars Hailey Brooks (University of South Florida) and Karlie Suber (University of Virginia). But libero Melanie Snyder leads a talented group of returnees, including Kylah Blackmore, Rachel Stanford, and Clarke Tyler, who emerged as a force in last year’s postseason run. Molly Jarvis could spend more time in rotation, and several have been promoted from JV. In the new Conference 11, the Raiders should still be considered favorites, with Mills Godwin, Deep Run and rival Lee-Davis near the same level.

Lee-Davis (25-7) looks to build on a surprising appearance in the state tournament last year. They must replace Meghan Trice, Christina Penzer and Kylie Armstrong. But the Confederates, under head coach Sharon Gaston, return key contributors Chelsea Matthews, Rachel Gaston and Jordan Martin. Miranda Novell, Brooke Bowman and Anna Soroka also return, with newcomers Rianna Riccardi and Kendyll Brown, players to watch.

“We must aggressively serve as well as pass,” Gaston said, who also noted the Confederates’ reliance again on what she labels “scrappy defense” for another successful season.

Hanover (12-10) was young last year, but led by a senior trifecta including Mary Dustin, who was named first team all-Capital District. The Hawks return with a new trio of senior leaders: Sarah Belcher, April Lankford, and Sarah Robertson. Sophomore track star Leila Haynesworth returns for year two playing the middle. Fellow sophomores Kendall Pully, Miranda Hall, and libero Rebecca Hoover lead another talented Hawks squad. They are not inexperienced, as all four played varsity as freshmen.

“With Allie (Dry) being our tallest player at 5’ 11”, we have a rather short team,” Hanover head coach Karl Lippa noted. “Solid defense will be needed for our success.”

Patrick Henry (8-12) looks to improve in their new home of Conference 16. Libero Rachel Brannon and basketball star Amber Lee (middle hitter) are two of four seniors returning to the Patriots’ lineup, with fellow hoopster Rachel Adams and Kim Arnold.

Watch for sophomore McKensie Washington and freshman Laura Williamson to play key roles for a team, led by head coach Billy Farmer, losing four starters and playing a familiar Colonial District-like schedule before moving into their new era in Conference 16 come playoff time.

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