A woman and a young boy walked down the hallway at Madison High School Tuesday night and stopped near the gym’s entrance. The woman watched the child peer through the doorway at the nearby commotion and said, “I guess volleyball season’s starting already.”
Indeed, the gym’s confines had all the makings of a big volleyball match. Both teams sported their full uniforms and performed before a sizable crowd that cheered on every point.
What made the match seem especially important, though, was the urgency displayed by the home team’s players as they dove for loose balls, shouted instructions in between hits and reacted with unbridled glee at the end of every earned point.
Yet this wasn’t a meaningful match; in fact, it wasn’t a match at all. It was a scrimmage, the first of the year for a Madison varsity team coming off last year’s 21-8 season that saw it advance to the regional semifinals.
Watching the team play against Paul VI Catholic on Tuesday, you might have thought the Warhawks had won that semifinal and were clawing their way through the championship match. Madison won each of the scrimmage’s four full sets, but its players increased their intensity with each passing game.
“We just try to be the loudest team out there,” said Marissa Roy, a junior outside hitter entering her third season on the varsity squad. “I think the positivity is really important. Everyone’s always keeping their head up, and it’s bringing us back from bad points right away.”
Every volleyball team in the area cheers during its matches, but Madison’s enthusiasm seems a bit different. There’s an extra pep in their step, the excitement coming equally from each player rather than just one or two cheerleaders. Some cheers are coordinated with synchronized dances that spread from the court to the bench, helping to tighten the bond between every player on the roster.
“I think that’s what really helps us,” said opposite hitter Amy O’Connor, one of two seniors on this year’s team. “Having our bench be really loud and feeding of each other’s energy. That’s what helps us on the court.”
But it’s not Madison’s dance moves that will help them vie for the top of Conference 6 this season.
Despite losing six seniors from last year’s squad, the Warhawks bring back plenty of talent this season, a promising sign in a conference filled with teams that lost many of their best players to graduation. Roy and libero Virginia Moore carry two years of varsity experience into their junior season, while O’Connor and sophomore outside hitter Jaynie Carter also return to the starting lineup. Every player on the team plays club volleyball year ‘round, so it’s not surprising little rust was shown in that first scrimmage Tuesday night.
The team has also added some new talent this fall. Middle hitters Erin Marcus and Emily Davine join right-side hitter Stephanie Satterlee to comprise a promising group of junior newcomers, while sophomore defensive specialist Avery Torres brings a steady presence to the lineup. They’ve also added a freshman, Emily Calhoun, who coach Carrie Hall hopes will add versatility to the outside hitter and middle hitter spots.
“She’s fundamentally very strong,” Hall said. “She comes in with all the right footwork, with the technique. She plays for a good club. So now it’s just a question of making her stronger.”
The setter position is a work in progress for the Warhawks. They return Hall’s daughter, Kendal, to one of the two starting spots in their 6-2 formation, but the other spot has been vacated by the graduation of Marissa Perez, a four-year starter at that position. Senior Maddie Torres and junior Chandler Rouse are working to fill that hole this year.
Last year’s 21-win season marked a significant improvement from the previous season’s 11-12 record that saw the Warhawks fail to qualify for the region tournament. They appear to have the tools to further build on that success, though it won’t be easy in a conference boasting area powers like Langley, McLean and Fairfax. Those teams lost several key starters from last year, but Hall doesn’t expect them to be easy outs by any means.
“A lot of this team comes from last year, so I just want them to build on what we have,” Coach Hall said. “There are some strong teams - last year three out of the four region finalists came from our [district]. Ideally, the fourth should have come; Fairfax barely lost to South County. So we just beat up on each other.”
Defending state finalist Stone Bridge, meantime, will move down to Division 5 for the playoffs this fall due to the newly implemented VHSL realignment. Madison will still play the Bulldogs once during the regular season, since the VHSL mandated that each school must play its traditional district schedule during the regular season.
Regardless of who they play, Madison will go only as far as their camaraderie takes them.
“Last year we had a good season because our team got along really well,” O’Connor said. “It’s the same this year, and I think that’s why we’re really excited.”