Turn Around: Western volleyball answers Albemarle’s fast start, wins five set battle

Photo by Kristi Ellis

Correspondents Delaney White and Emmy Franklin contributed to this story


Albemarle volleyball started fast Tuesday night, with reigning Jefferson District player of the year Maya Winterhoff making history by becoming the Patriots’ all-time kills leader while Albemarle jumped out to a 25-11 first set win. 


“I knew we were going to have to turn it around and find our energy and rhythm and we just traded shot for shot with them all night,” said Western Albemarle coach Julie Radlinski. “In the fifth set, they went out there determined.”


Western bounced back from that first set, won the next two and then withstood Albemarle building momentum and winning set four to beat the Patriots 15-11 in the decisive fifth set to snag a critical 3-2 victory that gives the Warriors a two-game lead in the Jefferson District race.


Brooke Chavez finished with a team-high 22 kills while Emma Shifflett notched 13, collectively helping offset Winterhoff’s huge individual night of 30 kills and 20 digs.


The back-and-forth battle came down to that fifth set and Western had to have a different approach after going into a hole in four straight games. 


“We talked about jumping out early, we wanted to get those first few points on the board,” Radlinksi said. 


That meant finding another gear right then.


“After we came together we talked about how we needed to pick up our energy and get hyped,” Grace Boitnott said. “We just did that on our bench and on the court.”


With Western up 8-5, a monster kill from Sofia Beard off a Boitnott set pushed the lead to 9-5. Boitnott, who rotated at setter with her sister in the Warriors’ system Tuesday, notched 14 assists and five digs on the night.


After trading points, Ellie Boitnott came up with one of her 24 assists on the night (she also had 14 digs) and found Chavez for a decisive kill to end the match at 15-11. The Warriors’ Amelia Tomlinson finished with another 11 digs to round out a really strong defensive night for Western despite Winterhoff’s explosion. 


“I think defensively we played pretty well, obviously Maya is a fantastic player and she’s going to get her kills,” Radlinksi. “We knew we needed to serve tough and we knew we needed to communicate and keep the energy.”


Albemarle had fast starts all night but struggled at times to maintain momentum in the individual games. That opening game win though was an impressive start in the critical match.


“They just were soaring through that first set, they were unstoppable,” Albemarle coach Lance Rogers said. “It showed in the score and the way we played. Then the match turned into an old dog fight between Western and Albemarle.”


It helped that the Patriots knew Winterhoff was within striking distance of that all-time kills record that has stood for more than two decades, 23 years. 


“They really wanted to give that gift to Maya because she has done so much for Albemarle volleyball over the years,” Rogers said.


Winterhoff is creeping near 1,000 total career kills, an incredible feat for the Appalachian State commit, particularly after enduring a shortened junior season due to the COVID-enduced condensed season.


“My setters have really led up to this, they’ve always been able to get me good balls,” Winterhoff said, crediting graduated setter Kiera Roach and her current teammate C.C. Smith. “The record has been there 23 years so it’s such a good feeling to beat that, it has been there forever.”


Smith finished with 41 assists while Grace Sembrowich had 24 digs and Maddy Ott chipped in nine kills. 


Western prevailed though, and the Warriors, still undefeated, are now in solid position to win a district title for the first time in nearly a decade with five games to go in the district slate including a pair of challenging matchups with Fluvanna County.


“Beating Albemarle twice in one season is just such a feat in and of itself, but having such a great Jefferson District matchup is really exciting,” Radlinksi said.