By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
In order to get his team ready for the tough regular season grind, Albemarle volleyball head coach Mark Ragland encourages a healthy competition amongst his troops in practice.
The Patriots have plenty of talent across the board, and are particularly deep at the setter position, with senior Kelsey Marks, junior Olivia Turner, and sophomore Keira Roach constantly battling for reps.
In Thursday’s Region 5D quarterfinal clash with Halifax, Ragland gave all three setters a chance to shine, and each made her respective mark on the match.
Marks, Roach, and Turner helped engineer an efficient Albemarle offense, and the Patriots cruised by the Comets 3-0 (25-12, 25-23, 25-15).
Albemarle constantly rotated different players in throughout the three games, but the home team seldom missed a beat, thanks to the balanced play its trio of setters.
“They are all very close in ability, so it’s really not like a 1-2-3 situation, as all of them, different times in the year have taken charge for us,” Ragland said of his three setters. “They’re really good competitors, but they’re also great supporters of each other. They’re all hoping that the other does well, but they’re all competing in practice, which makes for a better performance.”
The senior, Marks, led the way with 10 assists, while Roach chipped in with seven and Turner added six.
While Ragland rotated his setters throughout the match, the long-time head coach relied on his usual suspects to get the job done up front.
Powerful middle blockers Esther Amos and Maya Winterhoff set the tone for yet another dominating win for Albemarle. Amos displayed her dominance early on, recording her first of a team-high six kills for Albemarle’s first point of the match. The senior also turned in three digs, while helping generate a bevy of Patriot runs that helped put the game out of reach in sets number one and three.
“Esther gives us a great presence at the net,” Ragland said. “It’s always nice to have big kids up front. We’re real thankful for Ester in her two years on varsity and she’s really been a pleasure to work with. It seems like some of our bigger matches is when she really shows up, so it’s nice to see that big presence.”
The Patriots will miss Amos’ strength whenever the 2018 season ends, but the program is in excellent hands with the freshman, Winterhoff, playing such a big role from the onset.
Like Amos, Winterhoff came up with a number of timely plays on both offense and defense in front of the net in Thursday’s match. The powerful rookie finished with five kills and three digs.
Junior Anabella Towson also registered five kills and a pair of digs. Bridget Pinnata led the charge on defense with eight digs, while Audrey Sheedy finished with six.
Albemarle cruised to easy wins in the first and third sets, but the Patriots had a difficult time closing out Halifax in set number two.
Albemarle took control of an early seesaw battle to build a 22-10 lead. Moments later, the Comets used a few timely plays and several uncharacteristic errors by the Patriots to claw back into the game. Halifax used an improbable 11-2 run and survived a couple of false-endings to cut the deficit to just one point.
Looking to tie the set at 24, the Comets sailed the ball out of bounds to allow the Patriots to survive the methodical rally by the visitors.
“We weren’t focusing real well,” said Ragland of his team’s play down the stretch of the second game. “Poor service is usually a result of focus not being there, and tonight, you can see, we missed a lot of serves. When you miss the serves, you give a team a lot of easy opportunities.”
The Comets seized an 11-10 lead in set number three, but would rarely be heard from again after that. Albemarle responded with a 6-0 surge and scored 15 of the game’s final 19 points to complete the sweep.
The Patriots will look to qualify for the state tournament for the second time in as many years on Monday night. Albemarle will host the winner of Massaponax and Brooke Point.