Jamestown volleyball showing it has state championship chops

— High school volleyball may not have been played at a higher level in Williamsburg than it was Tuesday when Jamestown and Warhill met for the second and final time this season.

Combined between the state heavyweights, there were five Division I recruits, four of them 6 feet or taller on the Lions' home floor. Two will play in the Southeastern Conference and another in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Another 6-footer, Warhill sophomore Chloe Wilmoth, is likely to play on the next level and Jamestown setter Maggie Viniard will suit up next year at Division III Marymount University.

It yielded a match so brimming with talented players, the Eagles' 25-17, 25-16, 22-25, 25-17 win would have looked a like a match more befitting the stage of VCU's Siegel Center or a summer showcase to an outsider.

"That's a lot of high school volleyball talent on one floor," 12th-year Jamestown coach Tom Stephenson said. "I don't ever remember having that many players of that level on the floor before."

Jamestown (18-1, 14-0 Bay Rivers District), seeking its first-ever state title this season in 4A, expected a tougher match that it got when the Eagles cruised over Warhill 25-10, 25-11, 25-19 in early September.

Tuesday's match have been more indicative of just how good Jamestown is than where the Lions (14-5, 13-2 BRD) are as they seek a run at a third-straight 3A title.

Last year, Warhill reversed an early-season sweep to Jamestown by besting the Eagles in five sets in the second match.

But Jamestown ended it in four Tuesday after Warhill took the third set to stay alive. Eagles senior Maria Esch, a UNC Greensboro recruit, landed the match point on an emphatic kill courtesy of a Viniard assist.

"Coming in, we were definitely hyped up because last time we played them (last season), we lost," said Jamestown senior Ellie Popelka, a South Carolina recruit. "We said, 'We have to win this game in order to clinch the district title.'"

Tennessee commit Emma Schriner, a junior, is one of the best blockers in the state, and she showcased her skill when she moved to the net, tallying four blocks in the match-clinching set.

"Last year, it was in five, so both teams played really well," Schriner said. "But I feel like this year, we really brought the energy that we didn't have last year."

Though Warhill coach Greg Koon called it an average performance by Georgia Tech recruit Cori Clifton, the senior was stellar statistically with 20 kills, 14 assists and 11 digs. VCU recruit Jewel Walters, also a senior, had 15 digs at libero and Wilmoth tallied 15 assists, 15 kills, 13 digs, and three blocks.

"I liked some of it," Koon said. "There are spurts when they played to their potential and there were more spurts when they were not playing to their potential, which hurts."

No question, Warhill continues to improve and Koon expects they'll be even better a month from now.

Stephenson said the clear difference between Tuesday's match and September's was that Warhill played much better. And it was a welcomed test since the Eagles have rolled through district play. The third set Tuesday was the third one Jamestown dropped all season with the other two coming in a loss to 5A Princess Anne in the Endless Summer tourney.

Viniard (38 assists, 19 digs, 2 aces), Schriner (15 kills, 3 digs, 4 blocks), Popelka (15 kills, 9 digs), and Esch (13 kills, 17 blocks) were the standouts Tuesday.

The Eagles had a slight letdown Thursday in a 25-17, 25-22,25-14 win at New Kent. Led by Popelka's 19 kills and six blocks, it wasn't their sharpest performance of the season although Stephenson said they have played at a level this season high enough to challenge Loudoun County for a state championship. Last year, Loudoun knocked off Jamestown in the final to win its fourth title in a row.

The goal this season has been clear since Jamestown drove away from that crushing defeat in Richmond.

Popelka said. "I think coach says at least 10 times a practice, 'We are going for the state title, so show it in practice, show it in the games that build up to it.'"

That means getting up for every point in every match along the way.

"He's always like, 'You need to cheer like it's state championship point,'" Schriner said. "I think that's a really good mindset."

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

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