Knights Win State Title

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The 2011 Group AA Virginia State Volleyball Champion Cave Spring Knights.
The 2011 Group AA Virginia State Volleyball Champion Cave Spring Knights.

by Bill Turner

Cave Spring’s season of dreams came to fruition Saturday evening as the Knights overpowered Jamestown 3-0 to capture the Group AA state volleyball championship at the Virginia Commonwealth University Siegel Center in Richmond.

The Knights parlayed the perfect Final-Four as Cave Spring defeated four-time AA defending state champs Loudoun County 3-1 on Friday night, before returning Saturday to sweep Jamestown in dominating fashion.

Cave Spring’s five seniors, Shannon Craighead, Morgan Shannon, Kelsey Sine, Lauren Sledd and Kelli Long had set the bar high from the first day of practice- anything less than a state championship would be unacceptable. The Knights proved they could deliver.

With a pair of six-foot front liners, Jamestown looked to be a force at the net, especially when combined with an array of talented back-row defenders. But, the power game of the Eagles was frustrated all evening by a Cave Spring defense that time-after-time brought Jamestown shots off the hardwood. That,  followed by the rapid Knight passing game that typically led to Cave Spring kills, had the Eagles scrambling.

Cave Spring took game one with ease. The Knights jumped out to a 9-2 lead, eventually increasing the margin to eleven, 23-12, before closing with the 25-14 win.

Game two had the Knights up early at 8-3, before Jamestown rallied to get within one point at 12-11. But, Cave Spring turned on the burners, forging ahead with their precise pass-set-kill game for a late 22-16 lead. A pair of Jamsestown service errors doomed any chance of a comeback, and the Knights took the second game 25-19.

Jamestown hung tough in the third as the Eagles only trailed 14-13 midway through. Once again a Knight surge at the net put Cave Spring up 22-18, and set the stage for a dramatic finish like no other.

Jamestown, facing match point, down 24-22, played what appeared to be the perfect set-kill combo to draw within one. But, when the laser kill headed toward the hardwood, Cave Spring’s Craighead dove across the court for a desperation dig. As Jamestown prepared to celebrate the sure score, the ball bounced off Craighead’s outstretched foot, bounded across the net, landing squarely in the middle of four stunned Eagles who never moved.

The ref on the platform signaled point-Cave Spring as the Knights mobbed the court in celebration.

Cave Spring’s game plan was executed flawlessly. All-State hitter Morgan Shannon, who finished with a Cave Spring career-high 1,431 kills, pelted Jamestown with 19 kills, several of which tumbled Eagle defenders who had little answer for Shannon’s power. When Shannon wasn’t scattering the Jamestown back line, junior Erin Holsinger came from the middle, finishing with 12 kills of her own.

Holsinger also provided 2 blocks and became the single-season block leader for the Knights, while Craighead and Sine each added three blocks at the net.

Craighead, however, was the Cave Spring quarterback, setting the Knight offense with 34 well-placed assists. It was too much for Jamestown to overcome.

“This was by far the best defensive team I’ve seen all year,” Jamestown head coach Tom Stephenson said afterward. “That’s the reason they’re state champions.”

“We were really on today,” Knight’s head coach Tamalyn Tanis said with a huge grin. “I get nervous before any game. This was nice to watch. These girls had this goal all season. It was the seniors’ determination and leadership that was key.”

It was Cave Spring’s fifth volleyball state championship since 2003, moving them past six other teams who had previously been tied with the Knights in all classifications, at four. All five have come under Tanis. “It’s humbling,” the 10-year Knight coach said. “These girls work all season to prepare for this. It’s hard to imagine what they go through.”

For the Davidson-bound Shannon, her final game in a Cave Spring uniform was one she’ll never forget. “It hasn’t hit me yet,” she said with a smile.

For the equally talented Craighead, the win capped off her impressive career at Cave Spring as well. “(This was the) best defense I think I ever played.”