POWHATAN – Powhatan Volleyball has been focusing on playing hard instead of working hard. That shone through when the team called a timeout while trailing, and the players – smiling and cheering each other on – didn’t act like they were down.
That approach – and the Indians’ total team effort – carried them past Chancellor’s stout defense in four tightly contested sets and into the Region 4B semifinals on a thrilling quarterfinal triumph (25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20).
“This group of girls has exceeded everybody’s expectations,” said Cindy Bryant, who has gotten Powhatan to this point of the season in her first year as the team’s head coach. “But they have not exceeded mine, because I knew they were capable of great things…they’re great girls…I feel very humbled to get the opportunity to take them to a regional semifinal.”
They’re in sync with each other, said sophomore setter Bryson Amorese, who added that “it didn’t take long” within the season for them to click together. And in Wednesday’s quarterfinal, a lot of Powhatan’s players did a lots of things well, Coach Bryant pointed out, “and that’s what it’s going to take – we anticipate that from here forward, that we’ll have to spread our offense well and not let ‘em stop our any one thing.”
Amorese more than bounced back from the previous week’s regular season finale at Patrick Henry where, according to Coach Bryant, she had to endure hearing people in the stands scream “double” on most of her sets. On Wednesday she tallied up 37 assists and 13 digs while sprinkling in one ace and one kill, and she also employed the strategic setter dump attack, sending the ball over the net several times on the team’s second touch, which is typically used to set the ball.
“When I started playing more front row, I wanted to get that down, because I knew it would work a couple of times in games,” Amorese said of the dump attack. “It’s been fun – it took a while to kind of get used to it, just because I’m shorter and I knew that girls would be able to block me if they saw it coming, so I just try to keep it sneakier and then just do it quicker over the net.”
Amorese also floated one set high, across the net and just inside Chancellor’s court for the point as the visitors didn’t make the return.
Junior Natalie Mueller dialed-in as the match progressed, finding more and more success as she challenged Chancellor’s defending players on her serves and powerful attacks. She served two aces, rose for one block, defended well in the back with 10 digs and crushed 11 kills, including one for the decisive match point.
Sophomore middle Faith Henderson delivered crucial points in the clutch; after Powhatan fought back from a 10-5 first-set deficit with the help of Ellison’s spot-serving to trail 11-10, Henderson crushed the tying point down the middle, then sent a kill to the corner for a 12-11 lead. She also secured the go-ahead point in the third set at 14-13 as Chancellor hit her serve backwards and to the wall. Her service ace complemented five kills, one block and two digs.
Senior Star Bryant was a key part of Powhatan’s strong defensive effort and made timely points throughout as she slammed six kills across, registered 12 digs and led her team with three blocks. Sophomore Libero Allie Dulio went low and extended for multiple hard hits and finished the night with 11 digs. Junior Kara Huber in the middle of the match defended against several volleys from the backline, picking up six digs.
And whenever senior Sierra Ellison rose up to hit the ball, only Ellison could say where it was going through the strength of her hit. Sometimes she lasers it across the court. Sometimes she dinks it a short ways for shallow kills like she did Wednesday to set up match point. Sometimes she dares the defenders to try and return her mid-powered roll shots.
And then sometimes she just lets loose. The booming no-doubter she hammered along the sideline to set up set point in the third was proof of that. She made 17 digs and 16 kills and added two aces and two blocks.
“She’s really good at exposing the other team’s court – what is open,” Coach Bryant said. “She gets up there, she sees it, she puts the ball there and she just changes it up enough that…they braced for a huge hit and the next thing you know it’s rolling right in front of them.”
Junior McKenzie Urbine, who according to Coach Bryant reacts very well to the ball, played a brilliant first set and established the kind of game she’d deliver early on. She turned two reflexive defensive touches by her teammates in desperation maneuvers to keep the ball afloat into a one-handed overhead attack that crossed the net and found the floor for Powhatan’s second point of the match. She also: put her team ahead 15-14 in the first set when Chancellor hit away her dink; spiked a comebacker from Chancellor in the second; smashed a fiery kill into space for a 17-13 lead in the third; and secured the third set point and a 2-1 match lead for Powhatan on her attack. She forced multiple hitaways throughout the match and totaled five kills and two digs.
Coach Bryant also pointed to the players on the bench as contributors to that total team effort.
“We had some good eyes on the bench – getting great feedback about what was open on the other side of the court,” she said, noting how the players were able to get kills and points based on that feedback.
For Amorese, who last year was on JV, this is all new to her as the JV season didn’t include playoffs.
“This is crazy…I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Amorese said. “And now we play Monday [Nov. 11] at Courtland, which should be a fun game.”
Courtland, seeded first in Region 4B North, split its regular-season matches with Chancellor, winning in straight sets on Oct. 3 and losing in five on Oct. 28. Powhatan, the second-seed in Region 4B South, will travel to Spotsylvania to play on Courtland’s court.
“Nothing’s gonna be easy from here on out,” Coach Bryant said, though she added: “We have the pieces on this team to make it happen and so we’re just gonna keep playing hard together.”