Success isn’t built overnight, but over years of commitment to a common goal.
Albemarle has displayed that mindset and has emerged as the marquee high school volleyball program in Central Virginia.
Since joining the Jefferson District in 2013, the Patriots have registered four undefeated seasons in district play, including unbeaten campaigns in each of the past two seasons.
“Anytime you can go undefeated, in any sport, it is an achievement that you need to appreciate and celebrate,” Albemarle volleyball coach Mark Ragland said. “Especially in the Jefferson District, as there are a number of teams capable of tripping you up on any given night. We don’t ever want to take those accomplishments for granted.”
Ragland’s team has won 29 straight district matches and have lost just six matches against JD opponents. Albemarle’s last district defeat came at the hands of rival Western Albemarle in 2016.
“Our formula is pretty simple,” Ragland said. “We are repeatedly blessed with young ladies who work as hard as possible, buy into what we ask them to do, and focus on team success rather than individual accomplishments. Obviously, some talent is required as well to win matches, but the personal qualities that so many of these young ladies possess inspires the team to perform at a higher level than what the individual components of the team would appear to be.”
Albemarle returns seven players from last year’s team that advanced to the Region 5D semifinals. Outside hitter Adalee Lynch, who led the team in kills and was a first team all-district selection, headlines the list of returnees. Senior setter Keira Roach was a second team all-district selection and sophomore middle hitter Maya Winterhoff, who led the team in blocks, also returns to the fold from a team that finished last season with a 21-7 record.
Ragland also has been impressed with the play of Olivia Turner as a setter and defensive option. Maggie Weber should be a leader defensively on the backline, while Anabelle Townsend gives the Patriots another hitting option at the net.
“We are fortunate to return about half of the starting group from last season, which should give ups a good base to build on,” Ragland said. “What is going to determine our success this year, however, is how adeptly our newcomers are going to be able to patrol their positions, especially along the net.”
The veteran coach, who has amassed more than 600 victories during his career at Albemarle, said the team’s motivation is to based on the teams that donned the Patriots’ uniform before them.
“I think the current players would also readily admit that they already benefit from the respect that has been earned by the teams that have gone on before them,” Ragland said. “That tradition has some impact on their mindset as well. I think that this tradition helps motivate current players to buy into it as well. However, there is no replacement for having high-character people on your team, so we looking to engage those type of young ladies in our program.”
The Patriots did lose seven players to graduation from last year’s team, so depth could be a concern this fall, especially early on.
“Our seniors last year did a great job of covering a number of positions by committee,” Ragland said. “They combined to really give us a number of options as certain sports, so we will miss that versatility.”
Albemarle’s reign atop the Jefferson District will be tested this season. Western Albemarle and Monticello both had strong postseason runs last season and could provide a challenge.
Ragland has been pleased with the chemistry that’s developing with this year’s squad.
“They seem to genuinely enjoy being on the court together and we are really good at encouraging one another,” Ragland said. “Obviously, it’s only been a week, but if they can continue to encourage and support each other at this level, I think they will be proud of the end result.”
Albemarle will be tested early on when they open the season Aug. 27 at Brooke Point. Ragland is excited to see how this year’s group develops.
“When we have had team meetings regarding goals, most of it has been about meeting the expectations at every practice and to make sure that you work towards being a great teammate at all times,” he said. “We understand that the victories are really out of our control, but working hard, encouraging our teammates and playing with passion at all times within each player’s grasp.
“We know that if we can do these things, then we can leave the court after each match with the knowledge we did all we could do to affect the results, win or lose. That’s not a horrible place to be.”