Eagles top Minettes, JF wins in Seminole volley openers

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By Mike Forster

The Seminole District volleyball season kicked into gear last Thursday and one thing is clear: The three county teams appear to be much improved over last year.

How that improvement translates into end-of-season standings remains to be seen, of course.

Liberty visited Staunton River and the Minettes fell to the Golden Eagles 25-20, 18-25, 25-23, 25-22.

Jefferson Forest invaded Heritage, coming away with the sweep, 25-18, 25-12, 25-10.

Meanwhile, Rustburg let it be known that it is the team to beat in the Seminole, as it crushed defending district champion Brookville 29-27, 25-11, 25-8 on the Bees’ home court.

Amherst was swept by E.C. Glass in non-district action.

Eagles ride team effort

What hasn’t changed from last season is how closely matched are the Minettes and Eagles. What has changed is that Staunton River took the win over Liberty, something it failed to do last year.

Staunton River set the tone early, as Sam Sublett made two key blocks on Liberty’s powerful front line, showing the Minettes that the Eagles weren’t ready to back down in this one.

“It was a good game to get out of our system,” said Staunton River Head Coach Rich Northrup. “Liberty played tough. I was impressed.”

What was also impressive was the way Northrup’s charges didn’t collapse in the game four clincher. Up 15-10, the Eagles saw Liberty go on a 9-1 tear to claim a 19-16 lead. Key to the Minette surge were a pair of aces and a duo of kills, courtesy of Melanie Updike and Libby Tomlin.

After a River timeout and a Liberty service error, Sublett took over serving duties for the Eagles. The Minettes suddenly had some trouble keeping kills in bounds, and Staunton River re-established the lead. The win was iced as Jordan Merrill’s tap rode the net, dropping River’s way, and Sarah Woodford set up Devon Abrell for the game (and match)-winning kill.

Merrill, by the way, played tough from the back line all evening.

Liberty Head Coach Bonita Roberts appreciated the play from both squads. “Staunton River is scrappy. They keep the ball coming at you,” she said.

Of her own team, Roberts added, “We were a half step away. I can’t fault the effort, though.”

Updike and Tomlin, in particular, stood out. Both deliver with power: One of Tomlin’s smashes actually knocked down an Eagle player. Libero Brittany Pierce seemed to control things on the back line. Hannah Martin looks poised to become one of the premier setters in the district.

“We have a lot to look forward to,” added Roberts.

Not everything was swell, however. In the third game, both teams were plagued by service errors, and both coaches did not hide their frustration at that development.

Forest makes quick work of things

The Lady Cavs made a strong statement in their 3-0 sweep of Heritage (25-18, 25-12, 25-10).

That statement is that Forest is a team on the upswing. More importantly, it looks like the team has developed a no-nonsense approach to finishing off matches.

“We finally put together a match where we stayed focused the entire time,” said Forest Head Coach Steve Mills. “We’re trying to play every single point the same way.”

The Pioneers and Lady Cavs played fairly evenly through the first half of the opening game. Then, Forest took over and never let go of the momentum.

Mills’s goal is to have his charges keep their eyes on the immediate task at hand, rather than the score of the individual game or the number of games won (or lost).

Against the Pioneers, setter Erin McIntyre showed that she is growing more comfortable in that role, dishing out 16 assists.

Many of those assists went to Jordan Hawkins, who wound up with 10 kills for the evening. “Jordan is improving,” noted Mills, of the sophomore who is working off a niggling injury.

Megan Prothero, who may very well be the best natural athlete of the bunch, showed her versatility, with 9 digs and 5 aces.

Lindsey Smith chimed in with 6 aces and 5 kills of her own.

“I like where we’re sitting,” said Mills, adding that it’s still very early in the season.

Coming up

Having hosted James River this past Tuesday (after press time), Staunton River heads to Heritage this Thursday. On Monday, the Lady Eagles will play at Altavista, before hosting Brookville on Tuesday (Sept. 16).

After hosting Brookville this past Tuesday, Jefferson Forest finds itself in action at Amherst this Thursday evening. The team will follow that up when it hosts Rustburg on Tuesday (Sept. 16).

Liberty hosted Heritage on Tuesday. The Minettes head to Brookville on Thursday, then will swing over to Northside on Saturday for the Vikings’ invitational tournament. Early next week, Liberty will host Amherst on Tuesday (Sept. 16). It will be the third match for Liberty against the Lancers. The Minettes beat Amherst twice during the Liberty Invitational earlier this season.

All games, except the Northside tourney, start at 7:30.