Defending Bay Rivers District and Region I champion JamestownHigh lost four starters from a team that finished as Group AA state runnerup, but could be as strong in 2012 as it was a year ago. The Eagles' early results include a win over Cave Spring, the team that beat it for the AA title last year, a close loss to defending AAA Kellam and a 3-0 start in the volleyball-tough Bay Rivers.
The Eagles' latest triumph was a 26-24, 25-19, 25-16 win over York, one of the Bay Rivers' best teams. York got a game point at 24-23, but the Eagles rallied to win on district Player of the Year Briana Sutton's put-away at the net, then pulled away over the last game-and-a-half.
"I think it's almost all the same as last year, but we're so much closer in age," outside hitter Kelly Esch said. "That helps with unity."
Sutton said, "The Cave Spring win kind of raised our confidence. We're a very young team, so winning against that kind of a team was huge.
"I think we can definitely be as good as last year. It's ridiculous how much we've improved in the past two weeks."
As good, but different, Eagles coach Tom Stephenson said. The 2011 team stood out for its hitting, while the forte of this year's Eagles is defense.
In Sutton, the Eagles have one of the state's best hitters and it helps that she has a state-record-setting setter in Monique St. Cyr to pass her the ball. St. Cyr established a new Virginia High School League record last year with 1,104 assists in joining Sutton on the AA All-State team.
Esch does much of what Sutton does, while using her 6-foot-1 frame to make her one of the district's most intimidating blockers. Megan Sullivan is a defensive and serving standout, while Saskia Beitzell, Alexandra Walther and Allison Walls are varsity newcomers who've distinguished themselves by their hard work and blocking abilities.
"I think we can be comparable to last year, because of the commitment these kids have made to the program," Stephenson said. "Everyone on the varsity plays year round.
"We don't mandate that, but they understand the commitment it takes to get where we want to be."
GRAFTON DROPS FROM TOP 10
The Bay Rivers District enters this weekend's football games with no schools in Virginia Preps' latest Group AA Division 3 or 4 polls. Grafton was No. 2 in Division 4 going last week's game at Powhatan, but dropped out of the top 10 with a 26-21 loss.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun