It may have been just the fifth district meeting for both teams, but Tuesday’s Bay Rivers volleyball showdown between district powers Jamestown and New Kent had a definite playoff atmosphere to it.
“It felt like we were playing for the district championship,” Jamestown coach Tom Stephenson said after his team pulled out a gutsy victory in five games (23-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 15-11) over the host Trojans.
The Eagles dropped the first set and later trailed 2-1 before rallying to win the final two games.
“To come into this game against a team like New Kent on their home court in this kind of environment and perform the way they did, I couldn’t be prouder of my girls,” Stephenson added.
With hopes of defending its Bay Rivers title, Jamestown, which entered Tuesday night having won 22 consecutive regular-season contests, passed a major test Tuesday night in defeating New Kent, which also came into the game unbeaten in district play.
“Coming into this game we knew first place was on the line,” said junior hitter Kelly Esch, who sparked the Eagles with four clutch service points after they trailed 10-8 in the decisive fifth game. “New Kent is always a big game, they’re very skillful, so to come in here and leave in first place is a great accomplishment. It feels awesome.”
Esch, who finished with 15 kills, 17 digs and four aces, turned in a stellar all-around performance when Jamestown needed it most.
Eagles’ all-state hitter Briana Sutton was nursing a sore elbow and managed to only play sparingly during the first couple of games. Her formidable presence was absent down the stretch for Jamestown, but the Eagles’ veteran core of Esch, Monique St. Cyr and Victoria Bowen – all juniors – each stepped up in a big way.
St. Cyr (25 assists, 15 digs, 13 kills), an all-state setter who set a VHSL record for assists last season, stepped out of her usual role to fill the void at hitter, and Bowen, who led the Eagles with 17 kills, was a force at the net.
Stephenson said he was also pleased with the play of freshman Maddie Spence (18 assists), who was solid filling in for St. Cyr at setter.
“Bri is one of our best hitters, she’s one of our best passers and one of our best defenders…not to mention she’s our only senior,” Stephenson said of Sutton, who will likely rest her arm Wednesday when Jamestown takes on Bruton. “But everybody else stepped up. It took a while getting used to the different rotations with Bri out, but overall I can’t complain with how our girls responded.
“We were able to get 10 of the 11 players on our team in, so everyone got some good game experience.”
Added Esch, “Briana is such a huge part of our team, we knew everyone would just have to pick it up and that we couldn’t just rely on one person’s attacks or defense to carry us.”
Trailing 2-1 heading into the must-win fourth set, junior Olivia Kavanaugh gave Jamestown some early momentum, serving three consecutive aces to help the Eagles jump ahead 8-4. Esch followed with three-straight service points as Jamestown padded its lead 12-7. The Eagles held on to win the set 25-18.
In the fifth and final set, Jamestown was clinging to a one-point lead until Trojans’ star Karley Allen (21 kills, 20 digs) spiked back-to-back kills, which was followed by three-straight defensive errors by the Eagles, as New Kent jumped ahead 10-8.
Esch made the third error after bumping a return shot out of bounds, prompting Stephenson to call a timeout with his team five points away from defeat. When they returned to the court, the Eagles responded by serving five-straight points as Jamestown regained a 13-11 advantage.
The dagger came on New Kent’s next serve, when St. Cyr lunged out of bounds to make a great save that led to a Bowen spike down the left sideline.
The Eagles would win it on Cavanaugh’s ensuing serve.
“To go five games against a team like New Kent and win by only a few points, there’s nothing better in volleyball,” Esch said.
Jamestown 3 New Kent 2
Jamestown (9-1, 5-0 BRD)- Esch (15 kills, 17 digs, 5 aces), Bowen (17 kills, 15 digs, 4 aces), St. Cyr 13 kills, 15 digs, 4 aces, 25 assists), Spence (18 assists), Sullivan (11 digs, 8 aces).
New Kent (4-1 BRD)- Allen (21 kills, 20 digs), Gina Sledd (32 assists, 9 aces, 12 digs), Kelsey Stanbro 15 kills, 4 blocks, Olivia Foster (16 digs, 1 ace)