James Wood beats Hanover to repeat as state volleyball champions

jwvolleyballRICHMOND — Another sweep success.

One year after winning all three sets against Grafton for the program's first state title, the James Wood volleyball team swept Hanover for its sixth 3-0 win in six postseason matches to repeat as Virginia High School League Class 4 champions on Friday night at the Virginia Commonwealth University Siegel Center.

James Wood won by the scores of 27-25, 25-20, 25-14 in improving to 27-2 and setting a school record for wins. The Colonels trailed most of the first set and were two points away from losing it, but their championship mettle was on full display in winning the last three points of that game and erasing a 13-11 deficit to win the second game.

James Wood pulled away in the third set against the Hawks (22-4). Colonels' students began chanting, "Back to back!" as the match went into a timeout and the score 23-13. Three points later, a leaping spike from sophomore Kennedy Spaid in the back row fell to the floor for a kill to set off another Siegel Center celebration. Players and coaches screamed as they ran toward Spaid, who wound up at the bottom of a pile in the middle of the floor after a match in which she led the team with 14 kills and four aces and also had 10 digs.

"It was amazing," said Spaid of the final point.

Senior setter Hannah McCullough — who had rotated out at that point — was the first person from the bench area to make it to the middle of the floor after the Colonels became the first team in school history to win two straight state titles and the first area team of any kind in 11 years to repeat at the state level.

"If anyone was watching me, I could not sit still [for the last point]," said McCullough, who led the Colonels in assists (15) and digs (17). "I was just so excited to go out with a big win. We made history again."

McCullough sat with her three fellow seniors in the Siegel Center media room as she said that. The other three all touched the ball on match point.

Middle hitter Ashlynn Spence (eight kills) had the serve. Senior opposite/defensive specialist Lexi Taylor (three digs) went to her knees to make an outstanding dig when Emma Corker's spike deflected left after it hit the net, a touch that led to a stellar bump pass from Paige Ahakuelo (14 assists, eight kills, eight digs). As she ranged to the sideline, Ahakuelo hit the ball over her head to Spaid for the winner.

"It means a lot to me because it's my last time playing volleyball ever," Spence said. "So going out with a ring with literally my family is the most special thing. I wouldn't want it any other way."

Hanover certainly made the Colonels work for that ring.

Despite being the defending champs, James Wood admittedly had some nerves coming into Friday, and that helped the Hawks early. The Colonels were slow to react on the opening serve and gave up an ace, and a set on the second point wound up falling to the floor with no one taking a swing at the ball. Two points later, James Wood committed an attack error to fall behind 4-0.

The Colonels would settle down and rally for an 11-10 lead. But Hanover charged back, with a kill by NCAA Division I Furman commit Campbell Woods (match-high 18 kills to go with three blocks) delivering the final point in a 5-0 run to make it 18-13.

"We came out hot, ready to serve aggressive," Hawks coach Justin Rastberger said. "We blocked well, we moved well. Everything was just kind of firing on all cylinders that first game."

James Wood trailed 21-17 before embarking on a 4-0 run that concluded with a kill by Brenna Corbin (six kills, 15 digs) to make it 21-21. The Colonels would fall behind 23-22 on their sixth attack of the first set, but that would be their last deficit.

Spaid had kills off McCullough assists to give James Wood leads of 24-23 and 25-24. After a block by Woods tied it at 25, a Hanover service error gave the Colonels their third set point. The first game finally ended when junior defensive specialist Addie Pitcock (five digs, two aces) passed the ball to Ahakuelo, who set the ball to Spence in the middle. Spence sent a thunderous spike to the floor on the right side for a gutsy 27-25 first set win.

The Colonels often talk about their tight bond, and they simply trusted each other to do what was necessary to get the job done in that first set despite trailing for as long as they did.

"We know we have each other's back," Taylor said.

Patrick saw many of the qualities that make the Colonels so special in that first set.

"Fortititude, resilience, adaptability, flexibility, their ability to lean on each other," head coach Adrienne Patrick said.

James Wood's focus on working together as a team is so great that Spence had forgotten that she was the one who had the kill to end the set until she was reminded of it, prompting laughter from her teammates and Patrick.

The second set was another hard-fought battle, but the Colonels allowed themselves to breathe a little easier at the end of it. Up 18-16, a dink kill from Spence preceded two aces from Spaid to make it 21-16, then with the score 21-18 Spence had a kill and sophomore middle hitter Tenley Mattison (five kills, team-high four blocks) had a block and a kill to make it 24-18. Three points later, Corbin finished the set with a dink kill.

"Once we won that first set, we were able to play calm and play more like ourselves," McCullough said.

Hanover continued to fight and won the first three points of the third set, and was very much in the hunt with the score 12-10. But McCullough set up Ahakuelo for a kill that sparked a 7-1 run and a 19-11 lead. James Wood wound up scoring 13 of the last 17 points to capture the match.

Woods was the only Hanover player to have more than four kills for Hanover, which did not make the state tournament last year and was playing in its first state final since 2006. Corker had four kills and three blocks.

"The last two sets, they were able to stay in system a little bit more," said Rastberger of the Colonels. "Less scramble to keep the ball in play, which allowed them to kind of get in sync with their offense. We had a little bit of struggle with the pass, a little bit of struggle to terminate the ball. But we gave it all that we had and left it all out on the floor, so I'm very proud of them."

James Wood was just too good and too focused to even concede a set no matter how well its opponent played or tried this postseason.

After going 26-1 last year, the Colonels were on a mission all season, and it ended with them once again posing with championship medals and a championship plaque. This time, they unfurled a "STATE CHAMPIONS" banner with a "JW" logo while posing for post-match pictures in front of a large contingent of Colonels fans in the Siegel Center seats after the trophy presentation.

"I think we made an incredible statement this whole postseason, and I'm extremely proud of that," Patrick said. "I'm incredibly proud of their performance. I don't think that there's much that this group couldn't do. We made history repeat itself."

Check back later this weekend for a story focusing on James Wood's seniors.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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