Back-to-back:  Second Group 3 state volleyball trophy comes to Daleville

The 2018 Group 3 Virginia State Champion Lord Botetourt volleyball team includes (from left) front row, Jenna Alam, Leah Carlton, Kenleigh Gunter, Maegan Barnes, Alexis Ellis; back Assistant Coach Samantha Wilkins, Head Coach Julie Conner, Scottie Cook, Brooklyn Shelton, Catherine Reinard, Ryanna Clark, Miette Veldman, Jordyn Kepler, Assistant Coach Ashley Mundy and Assistant Coach Michelle Kembel. Photo by Jim Devinney

The Lord Botetourt volleyball team completed “back-to-back” state championships Friday night with a dominating win over Tabb in the state final. LB won in three sets, 25-21, 25-18 and 25-15 at the Salem Civic Center.

“This is a little sweeter than last year since we went back-to-back,” said LB junior Miette Veldman, who had 20 kills in the state championship match. “This was our goal since the beginning of the season.”

LB was the odds-on favorite to win the championship since the season began in August. After going 31-0 last year the Cavaliers returned almost everyone from that team, and they dominated throughout the season once again. Their only loss came in the Virginia Showcase Tournament at the Richmond Volleyball Club over Labor Day weekend to Frank W. Cox High School. Botetourt lost a best-of-three match in which they were outscored just 72-70 by a strong Class 6 Cox team.

“That was the best team we played, but Blacksburg and Hidden Valley were also tough,” said Veldman.

Botetourt played Hidden Valley in the semifinal in Daleville. The Cavaliers had dispensed of the Titans in the Region 3D final in three sets, but the state semifinal was much closer. Botetourt needed five sets to put the pesky Titans away, 26-24, 16-25, 25-23, 23-25 and 15-3.

“We were expecting a good game, but they maybe shocked us a little with how well they played,” said Veldman.

Twice Hidden Valley tied the match after LB had taken 1-0 and 2-1 leads in sets. The Cavs came out with a purpose in the fifth set and left no doubt.

“It was an outstanding match,” said LB coach Julie Conner. “It was a little bit of a rollercoaster but we came out in the fifth set and took control.”

Veldman led LB with 23 kills, 25 digs and two blocks. Scottie Cook had eight kills and three blocks and Brooklyn Shelton had seven kills and three blocks. Kenleigh Gunter had 25 digs and Jordyn Kepler had 44 assists, including the 2,000th assist of her career in the second set. Kepler is just a junior.

That win set LB up against Tabb in Friday’s championship game. The Tigers had beaten Warren County in the other semifinal, denying the Wildcats a rematch of last year’s championship at VCU in Richmond, when LB beat Warren in three sets to win the championship for the first time.

Tabb hung tough for two sets but LB prevailed. In the third set the Cavaliers dominated to put it away.

“We had a seven-hour trip from Yorktown due to the bad weather, and our girls just wore out,” said Tabb coach Margaret Kowalski. “Lord Botetourt has a good team but I think we could have played a lot better.”

Once again Veldman led the Cavaliers with 20 kills, 13 digs and three blocks. Shelton had eight kills, Jenna Alam had seven and Scottie Cook had five. Kepler had 42 more assists and Jordyn and Gunter had nine digs each.

The girls erupted into a spirited celebration after the win and stayed around long after the final point to take pictures and enjoy the moment. They were still celebrating when the Salem Civic Center crew started taking up the floor. Coach Conner then took them all out for ice cream, and a pizza party followed at the home of one of the parents.

“We had great support,” said Conner. “We had a terrific crowd at our gym for the Hidden Valley match and there were a lot of Botetourt people at the civic center. It was a great atmosphere.”

Botetourt finished the season with a 32-1 record and a two-year record of 63-1. The Cavaliers will graduate five seniors, Alam, Cook, Shelton, Alexis Ellis and Catherine Reinard. However, the cupboard will hardly be bare next year as Veldman, the best player in the state in Class 3, will return for her senior season along with setter Kepler and four other juniors from this year’s team. LB also had a strong jayvee team, so a “three-peat” is not out of the question.

“I expect we’ll come in with high expectations once again,” said Conner. “These girls are very motivated. This is just a great group of girls and we’ll really miss our seniors.”

Now it’s on to the basketball season for several of the Cavaliers. Veldman, Shelton, Alam, Cook and Gunter all played on the basketball team that won the state championship last winter. Those girls will be going for a fourth state championship when the girls basketball season begins Tuesday in Lynchburg against Liberty Christian Academy.

“That’s the goal,” said Veldman.

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