The James River boys volleyball team is right where it wanted to be for the last match of the 2016 season.
The Rapids, the reigning 6A state champions, spotted Grassfield of Chesapeake the first game in their semifinal match at James River on Tuesday night then rapidly dispatched the Grizzlies 22-25, 25-12, 25-16, 25-13 to advance to the state championship game for the fifth time in seven years.
James River (18-1) faces a familiar foe in Thursday’s 5 p.m. final at the Siegel Center: Conference 3 rival Cosby, which gained its berth with a road victory over First Colonial of Virginia Beach.
The Rapids are chasing their fourth state crown. They won back-to-back in 2010 and 2011 before winning last year. They were runners-up in 2014. Cosby has been runner-up twice, 2009 and 2012.
“This will be the fifth time this year we’ve played Cosby. We know them and they know us. That makes it an even tougher game to win. ... Each time we’ve played them, it gets closer and closer. So we’ve just got to come in strong like we did tonight and, hopefully, come out with another victory,” said Rapids coach Michael Blankenbecler, who was The Times-Dispatch All-Metro player of the year in 2007 after leading Thomas Dale to a state title.
Grassfield, a newcomer to the state playoffs, came out strong and took advantage of James River errors in the opening set.
“I think we really underestimated Grassfield,” said senior setter Kyle Brumbaugh. “They’re a very good team. We didn’t know much about them. We hadn’t seen them play. We were just kind of shellshocked.
“They play very good defense. They have some kids who could really put the ball down. Once we knew what they had, we just started serving aggressively. I think that was a big thing.
“Our block was incredible, and we had guys like Hampton (McClellan), Luke (Wynne) and Adair (Moore), Cabell (Early), Brian (Baum) all really start to put the ball away.”
Brumbaugh, a first-team All-Metro pick and conference and state player of the year in 2015, logged 33 assists against the Grizzlies. McClellan recorded 11 kills, and Wynne, Moore and Baum added 7 kills each.
The Rapids’ strength is how many players contribute to the offense and especially on defense, where libero Sean Pinney energizes everyone.
“They amaze me every day. Even in practice, they get the craziest balls. You see Adair out there diving after every ball. I’ve never seen anyone do that before. I don’t even know how he gets to the ball in the first place, let alone get the ball back in play,” McClellan said.
James River scored the last nine points of the second set to even the match then gave Grassfield nary an opportunity at any runs in the last two games. Only five times in the last three sets did the Grizzlies score consecutive points.
“We’re really clicking right now,” Brumbaugh said. “Every game we go into we feel like the pressure is on the other team to beat us because we are the defending champions. We’re playing well. We’ve got all the confidence in the world right now.”