POWHATAN – As Powhatan volleyball heads into Year 3 with Coach Cindy Bryant at the helm, both the talent and the enthusiasm level are at tremendous heights.
“We’re super excited. We think that the foundation is laid,” Bryant said. “We think our launching pad for the season is at a higher skill level than we’ve had in the past couple of years that we’ve been in the program.”
“It’s exciting we’re all back together,” said senior middle blocker Faith Henderson. “We’ve been with Coach Bryant for a little while now, so we know what to expect and go out there and give our all.”
“It’s exciting because we have a lot of potential – we have a lot of new girls on the team,” said senior right side hitter Emilie McDaniels. “I think it’s going to be a really good season, just working together.”
Monday’s tri-match scrimmage in Williamsburg was a major tone setter for the Indians. When facing Monacan – a Dominion District rival who had also beaten Powhatan this spring for the Class 4, Region B championship and a state tournament berth – as well as hosting school and 2020-21 Class 4 state runner-up Grafton, Bryant said that they played really, really well.
“Last night, we came away as coaches from the scrimmages saying we feel like we’re playing almost at the level we ended the season at,” Bryant said the following Tuesday morning. “That’s very good news.”
Following a terrific breakout season in which she averaged 20.5 assists in the regional tournament and had 31 in a late-season matchup with Clover Hill this spring, junior setter Sydney Wade is back and has been working hard according to her coach. The team also currently has a couple of setters in the mix behind Wade, providing depth at the position.
Dual-sport leader and returning senior Kendal McMullin (lacrosse) gives the Indians a stonewalling presence at Libero. Kai Ganaden showed impressive character to Powhatan’s coaches when she returned to try out for and then successfully made the team in her senior season after she missed the cut as a junior. Ganaden should bolster the team’s backline at the defensive specialist position.
When it comes to their strengths on defense, McMullin said: “We don’t let any balls hit the floor. Every ball, there’s been a touch on. We have a lot of effort and hustle on our team.”
Ganaden noted that this year’s a unit has a lot of “loud voices and power hitters on our team, and they provide a lot of energy and can definitely get us some points.”
“Everywhere we hit – it doesn’t matter who’s hitting, they hit hard,” McDaniels said. “It’s a hard swing every time. They’re giving it their all all the time. It’s just a lot of power.”
McDaniels and Henderson, another dual-sport leader (basketball), bring both power and experience to the attacking side, with McDaniels at right side hitter and Henderson playing in the middle. Juniors Olivia Moss (outside/setter), Carly Rehme (outside) and Chesed Russell (middle/right side) will add their attacking prowess and versatility to the lineup once again. In addition, Bryant said that junior and multisport athlete Sam Flippo, currently listed as both a middle blocker and right-side hitter, brings “incredible energy” to Powhatan’s court.
“Just trying to find (out) how she can serve our team best right now,” Bryant said of Flippo, “but we know we need to have her on our court.”
Powhatan’s class of seven juniors and the team’s depth at the attacking positions include both Avah Etheridge (outside hitter) and Colby Wright (right side). Sophomores Grace Hayden and Noel Rhoden should contribute to the team at the defensive specialist and setter positions, respectively.
“We have all the pieces,” Bryant said. “We have great leadership, great cultural buy-in. Players who are playing want to be here playing and are working hard together. We think that’s going to set the stage for a great season. I cannot be more grateful for the coaching staff that we have – Coach Doug (Gagnon) with all his experience, high-level experience, Coach Jason (Musick) with his high-level play experience, and I think together, we make a great team, and it’s going to really help the girls achieve their highest potential for the season.”
Powhatan’s middle attack and middle block should be a central strength as evidenced by how it shut down the power hitter on both of Grafton and Monacan’s teams for chunks of Monday’s scrimmage, Bryant said.
“We blocked really well last night, and we worked well together,” McDaniels said, pointing to the team’s “good communication, good energy” and “picking each other up, too, when we get down.”
“I think our energy’s really good. Our focus is there. It’s like everybody wants to be there, and you can tell,” Henderson said. “It’s exciting because we’re in it together.”
“The effort with everybody is 100% all the time,” Ganaden said. “Even when we’re tired and we get down, everybody still picks each other up.”
Their serving is also strong going into the season, Bryant noted. She said they saw success with their serve in the scrimmage when it came to consistently putting the opposing teams out of system.
In its first two years led by Bryant, Powhatan assembled a 26-9 record including invitational games and earned two regional semifinal appearances and one regional runner-up result. The Indians advanced that far by excelling in a tough Dominion District, which should help prepare them for what promises to be an even more talented playoff field this autumn as Atlee joins Class 4, Region B.
“That’s the thing that these girls realize and are ready for,” Bryant said. “We want that tough schedule. We have asked Tim (Llewellyn, Powhatan High School’s Athletic Director) for that tough schedule, and this year’s schedule is pretty brutal, but it’s going to be an awesome journey.”
In addition to its district opponents, Powhatan will also embrace the opportunity to host regional opponent and powerhouse program Patrick Henry on Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. for the Indians’ home opener. The overall regular season opener for Powhatan will take place Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. at Goochland High School. The Goochland Bulldogs are coming off of a runner-up finish in Class 3, Region B this spring.
Bryant added of Powhatan’s players: “I think the protection of their court, the protection of their teammates that we’re watching in preseason here go on is going to pave the way for being competitive in intense matches, and we’re not going to focus on the win or loss in that as much as we’re going to focus on: did we fulfill our potential in these matches?”
While full normalcy has not returned – coaches are back to wearing masks, and safety measures are still in place as COVID cases begin to climb across the country again – the team is still on track to have a full slate of games in the traditional fall season.
“I think at large, players are grateful to be on the court, and we as coaches are grateful and willing to do what we need to do for them to be on the court,” Bryant said. “We believe they need these opportunities to have a taste of normalcy in their life, because it isn’t as normal as we had all hoped yet.”
“I think a sense of normalcy is just exciting. It rallies us more together, and it’s more motivating,” Henderson said. “We’re all grateful and excited to be here.”
After two years of coming up one game shy of making it to the state tournament, Powhatan is set on taking that next step.
“I definitely see a lot of motivation, and everybody wants that – to be there again, and to go past it,” Ganaden said.
“I have incredible belief in their potential,” Bryant said of her players, “and I believe, because of the amount of belief they have in their potential and buy-in to following where coaches are trying to take them…they are going to rise to that potential.”
“We’re right there – it’s right at our fingertips,” Henderson said, “and I think, this year, we can get it.”