It was a simple, logical change, and it helped spark Colonial Forge to a critical victory over Albemarle High Tuesday night.
The Eagles, for the first time, shifted 6-foot-2 lefthander Brooke Kelley from outside back to her natural spot at rightside hitter, moving Catie Platt into the outside role. The move worked perfectly as the dominant hitter exploded for 24 kills and another five blocks to lead Colonial Forge past Albemarle 3-1.
“She just looked so much more comfortable out there and so much more comfortable in what she’s doing,” said Colonial Forge coach Keith Mesa. “And she showed a lot of determination to close it out in that game four.”
Kelley put together a four-point run at the service line to close out game four and end the match. An ace on the final point from Kelley finished it.
Albemarle struggled to counter Kelley all night as the senior, who’s bound for UNC-Greensboro on a volleyball scholarship, came up with five blocks.
Albemarle also had trouble with the serve-receive game all night, limiting sophomore setter Jessie Block’s options along the net.
“That was probably the most stark difference between the two teams,” said Albemarle coach Mark Ragland. “Their setter had a lot of options on just about every pass.”
Block still managed to crank out 44 assists, with the majority going to hitters Megan Napolitano (20 kills) and Stephanie Strauss (18 kills). Strauss’ lone block on the night also gave the senior the school’s single season blocks record, breaking Sara Bowles’ record of 70 set back in 2004. According to the Albemarle volleyball website she’s already the career leader in blocks.
The Patriots lost a hard fought game three that turned the tide of the match. Albemarle actually grabbed a 26-25 lead and appeared set to win it, but a Kendra Stone kill evened the match for Colonial Forge and sent Napolitano to the backline, making things tough on Albemarle. Despite that, the Patriots bounced back with a pair of Strauss kills giving them a 29-28 advantage, but a Sarah Warford kill and a pair of hitting errors by Albemarle gave Colonial Forge the 31-29 victory.
Warford finished with 16 kills for Colonial Forge while setter Gabby Myers dished out 43 assists.
There’s a good chance the Eagles and Patriots will face off again in the Commonwealth District tournament the last week of October — the two schools seem to battle it out each year for the district title, but both have losses to other district teams on their schedule.
Both teams should continue to get better as the year progresses too. Colonial Forge has faced a Kellam High (Virginia Beach) squad twice that’s considered the state’s best and has gone toe-to-toe with powers like Osbourne Park and Mills Godwin, and that competition should help give the squad an edge in playoff contests. Albemarle, on the other hand, is still quite inexperienced and remains a work in progress. The Patriots should continue to eliminate some of their hitting errors during the last few games of the regular season, errors that were costly against the efficient Eagles.
“We made a lot of those hesitation mistakes too in big moments and that’s something we’re working through,” Ragland said. “But you have to grow into that role.”