After graduating seven seniors—six of whom were starting players, including a Conference 29 multi-record-breaking player of the year—Western Albemarle High School girls’ varsity volleyball coach, Ron Pack, says people expected the 2016 fall season to be one of rebuilding. In fact, the thinking ran so deep, some of the players came into the preseason in a bit of a funk.
“At the beginning, I think we had a few players who thought we were going to have a ‘down’ year,” said Pack. “But the coaching staff had high expectations and made high demands of the players—we were confident in the team and knew they could do well.”
Fueled by the coaches’ unflagging surety, the girls responded with hard work, upping their game in practices and matches. “As the season progressed, they began to see just how good they really were and this helped them gel as a team,” said Pack. “They started playing with determination and tenacity, and that made all the difference.”
Indeed, by the end of the season the team had compiled a record of 25 wins and four losses, and advanced to the regional semifinals. Of the squad’s four losses, all were to strong teams—three of which were from schools much larger than WAHS. “You have to remember that WAHS is a class 3A school,” said Pack. “We lost two regular season matches to Powhatan, which is a class 4A school. We lost one match to Stone Bridge, which is a class 5A school. And we lost to Blacksburg at the 3A West semifinals by a score of three sets to two sets, and they went on to play in the state semifinals. So all of our losses came at the hands of really strong squads.”
Leading the team was senior captain, Courtney Berry. Named the 2016 season’s Most Valuable Player, Berry was selected to the All-Conference 29 First Team and All-Region 3A West Second Team. “This was Courtney’s fourth year on varsity,” said Pack. “That is a rare occurrence here at Western. She led the team in kills, led the team in blocks and was third on the team in aces. She finished second in season kills, third in career kills, first in season blocks and first in career blocks at Western.” Upon graduation, Berry will go on to play at Washington and Lee University.
Captain Olivia Nichols was another standout. This season—her third as a varsity player—Nichols won All-Conference 29 First Team honors, as well as an All-Region 3A West Honorable Mention. “Olivia finished second on the team in kills, second in blocks, and second in digs,” said Pack. “Furthermore, she’s now fourth in career blocks at Western.” Next year, Nichols will play for Sewanee: the University of the South.
Beyond Berry and Nichols, the squad will graduate an additional five seniors. Concerning next season, coach Pack calls it a wait-and-see situation. “Next year’s team will be young in regards to varsity volleyball experience,” he said. “Players have to earn their spots on the team during tryouts, so I don’t know exactly what the team will look like. There were six underclassmen on this year’s squad and I anticipate many players from our JV team will try out for varsity.”
Regardless, Pack is sure the 2017 Warriors will take a cue from this year’s team and do great things.