Volleyball season in review: Mulligan snub doesn't sit well with Warhill coach

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

After Warhill won its second-straight Group 3A volleyball title last month, Lions coach Greg Koon sat at the post-match press conference table and briefly, in effect, lobbied for Nicole Mulligan to be state player of the year.

But Warhill's senior outside hitter was passed up for the honor, as she was for the top region and conference honors. Those decisions still don't sit well with Koon, who earned at least a share of the top coaching honors in all three categories.

Koon's case for Mulligan: Her best efforts came on the biggest stages. She led the 24-7 Lions to conference, regional and state titles and had dynamic performances in each final.

Best all-around player distinction in 3A, the Bay Rivers District and even in just Williamsburg is probably up for debate. The value of Mulligan, the 2015 Virginia Gazette volleyball Player of the Year, to her team is not.

Whether or not the Lions were successful rested on the shoulders of Mulligan, who averaged 4 kills per set on 424 total kills and finished with 90 serving aces (0.8 per set) and 203 digs (1.9).

"Her emotional status was a direct result of them winning," Koon said. "When she turned it up a notch and played on another level, the team followed suit. Looking back, the whole season was like that … By the end of the season, she had a whole new attitude. It was all positive and it elevated the rest of the team."

Mulligan said the turnaround for her was the regular-season loss to Lafayette.

"After that, I knew I had to pick my team up and we all play together," she said. "But I also think after the first few games, we all got a really good feel of how each other played and it was just kind of a spark for all of us on the court."

And that best-player distinction, by the way, is not unsettled for Koon.

"She is the best player at her position that I saw from any team from any class," he said.

Mulligan's dedication to her team was clear in that same post-match media gathering. She began to break down when describing what it felt like to win two state titles in a row. "But it's even better having an amazing team," she said. "Leaving them is really hard because they're amazing."

Mulligan hasn't announced her college decision. It's down to UVA Wise, UNC Pembroke, Mars Hill, and Coastal Carolina.

Across town, Jamestown (25-4) has at least three Division I prospects on its roster led by Conference 25 and 4A East player of the year Maria Esch, a junior, and classmate Ellie Popelka.

Popelka led the team with 335 kills (3.8) and Esch, who took top conference and region honors, had 328 (3.6). Popelka finished with 69 blocks and junior Emma Schriner led the team with 92 blocks. Esch also led the Eagles with 425 digs (4.5) while adding 32 blocks.

Jamestown may have had its most talented team in school history and despite losing in the 4A final to powerhouse Loudoun County, had one of its best seasons as Tom Stephenson earned region coach of the year and state co-coach of the year honors.

Best match

Jamestown-Warhill, Round 2: The Lions prevailed 3-2 (26-24, 22-25, 25-21, 25-27, 15-12) after being swept the first time the rivals clashed. Who would have won had the teams met a third time?

Best individual performance

Nicole Mulligan's. Pick one. Was it the career-best 27 kills against Poquoson in the conference final? Or the stellar state title match when she had only two fewer kills than Hidden Valley's total team tally?

Jamestown deserves some recognition here, too. Esch had 22 kills in a region semifinal win over Powhatan and Popelka 21 kills in the region final against Woodgrove. The fourth was particularly memorable for Popelka, who was dominant in the waning stages, propelling her team to the state final.

Looking ahead

Georgia Tech recruit Cori Clifton will return next year for Warhill along with Chloe Wilmoth, who had a standout freshman campaign and Jamestown will be loaded with Esch, Popelka and Schriner back.

Lafayette was dealt a tough blow with Lafayette College signee Julia Howard missing significant time with injury this season, but will return all-region performer Abby Oren, a rising senior.

Bruton's and Walsingham Academy's records didn't show it, but each team was competitive in most of their losses. Each team should be much improved next year. The Panthers were led this season by standout sophomore Gabby Calloway and the Trojans by junior Lejla Topcic.

Williamsburg Christian Academy, which had seven total players, will lose its leader, senior Patricia Davie.

Postseason distinction

Lafayette: All-region second team Abby Oren; all-conference first team Oren; all-conference second team Julia Howard, Kelly Carroll.

Jamestown: All-state first team Maria Esch, Ellie Popelka, Emma Schriner; all-state second team Gen Allison; all-region first team Esch, Popelka, Schriner, Allison; all-region second team Maggie Viniard; all-conference first team Esch, Popelka, Schriner, Allison, Viniard; all-conference second team Maddie Spence, Marissa Campbell, Madison Pettengell.

Warhill: All-state, all-region, all-conference first team Nicole Mulligan, Chloe Wilmoth, Cori Clifton, Jewel Walters.

Bruton: All-state first team Gabby Calloway; all-region first team Calloway; all-region second team Aaliyah Bartlett.

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

BY THE NUMBERS

3 consecutive Warhill state final appearances.

501 career kills for Bruton sophomore Gabby Calloway.

16 Williamsburg Christian wins this season.

23.1 Nicole Mulligan's ace percentage.

9-match win streak highlighted Jamestown's 25-win season.

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