James Wood volleyball seniors leave a special mark on program

RICHMOND — James Wood sophomore Kennedy Spaid made it clear what was at the forefront of her mind at Saturday’s Class 4 volleyball state championship match.

“We definitely wanted to [win] for our seniors, because they’re a big part of our team,” said Spaid, the Region 4D and Class 4 Northwestern District Player of the Year. “We’re going to miss them next year.”

James Wood’s four seniors are a talented bunch. Over the last three years, setter/opposite Paige Ahakeulo, setter Hannah McCullough, middle hitter Ashlynn Spence and opposite/defensive specialist Lexi Taylor have a combined eight All-District and four All-Region selections.

But it’s not their skills that will be missed the most. That was evidenced by the sentiments shared by the four seniors and head coach Adrienne Patrick in the Virginia Commonwealth University Siegel Center media room before Spaid and fellow sophomore Brenna Corbin were brought in. There was plenty of laughing, and it ended with a good-natured apology from Patrick because of the amount of crying.

For Patrick, the foursome is a particularly special group become they were freshmen when she took over as head coach during the COVID year of 2020-21. Taylor has been on the varsity all four years, McCullough and Ahakuelo joined as sophomores, and Spence was added last year. They helped James Wood to a 53-3 record, two district regular-season titles, two region titles, and two state titles the past two seasons.

“I have been coaching with them the whole time I’ve been at James Wood. This is the first time I’ve seen a group from the beginning to the end,” said Patrick, who struggled to get through that last sentence. “It was pretty incredible to coach them last year, then this year too to end the way that we did. I’m incredibly proud of their performance.”

Spence had to compose herself when asked about her teammates.

“I’m older than them, but I’ve looked up to them a lot,” Spence said. “I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.”

“I look at them as my best friends on and off the court,” McCullough said. “We may fight sometimes, but we’ve always loved each other and are always still there for each other.”

Ahakuelo said earlier last week that she appreciated her teammates because of how they accepted her even though she didn’t grow up playing with them. For example, McCullough, Spence and Taylor play club ball for Blue Ridge Volleyball in Winchester, while Ahakuelo plays for Paramount Volleyball Club in Manassas.

“This is a little too emotional for me,” said Ahakuelo after pausing. “Playing against them in travel, it was always a competition, and finally getting to play with them these last few years ...”

“You beat us almost every time,” interrupted McCullough in a sad, joking tone that prompted laughter from everyone, though the Blue Ridge players pointed out they won the last matchup.

Ahakuelo’s statement might have taken a humorous turn, but she’s made it clear she loves everything about James Wood’s family culture. Everyone on the team is close, and their relationships with each other is one of the reasons why the Colonels repeated as champions this year. The seniors care deeply about the six underclassmen.

“Having that bond with them, we had the same bond with our seniors last year,” Taylor said. “That’s very important to our team bond. Having a bond like ours, you have to spend time with each other. You have to want to enjoy that time. We all wanted to enjoy that time.”

Spence said she definitely enjoyed her car rides with Spaid, Corbin and sophomore Tenley Mattison.

“They’re the funniest people I’ve ever met,” Spence said. “They would laugh at me for crying right now.”

Corbin is Spence’s neighbor.

“We’ve always just been really close, because we play travel with them,” Corbin said.

“They definitely pick us up and are really funny,” Spaid said. “When we’re down on the court, they know how turn it around and make us laugh.”

Taylor was glad that James Wood’s players won not only won for each other, but for their school.

“That was my last time stepping on the court, so it was an emotional road,” Taylor said. “I’m glad that the road had a happy rainbow at the end. Everybody at school is always like, ‘Are you gonna win this? Are you gonna win this?’ I feel like we did it for them.”

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