James Monroe is no stranger to the bright lights and big atmosphere of the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
For the volleyball team, however, it has been a little while since they have made a title run.
After winning a Class AA state championship in 2014 over Clay County, the Mavericks made a semifinal run in 2017 before dropping a tough match to Winfield.
Five years later and now in Class A, James Monroe is back in the big dance.
The No. 6 seeded Mavericks will play the second match of the afternoon session Wednesday at the 2022 WVSSAC State Volleyball Tournament against last year’s runner-up, No. 3 seed Ritchie County.
The Mavs and the Rebels will follow the Buffalo and Pendleton County match which starts at 1:30 p.m.
Heading into the season with a bevy of young players, making the state tournament appeared to be a challenge for James Monroe, but it was one the Mavs were ready to tackle.
“You always have it in your mind that you want to get to the state tournament. I really felt like with the senior leadership that we had that they could bring the young ones along,” James Monroe head coach Julie Bradley said. “I knew it was going to be a task getting it all to mesh, but they really have pulled it together. They are great girls. Their goal was to make the state tournament and it’s hard to get there. It is pretty amazing what they have done and it was really exciting stuff today at school.”
Seniors Haley Hunnicutt, Chloe Shires, Emma Brown, Emily Bailey and Sydney Hunt have all been a huge part of the success for James Monroe.
Hunnicutt leads the Mavericks in assists, while Shires is the key player on serve receives and digs.
“Chloe and Haley have bee crucial in getting the passes and sets up for us,” Bradley said. “The seniors have been great at adjusting to their roles. Emily has battled some injuries and illness, so she is working to get her timing down. Emma has started and been in games for us. They are all getting in a doing what is needed to help out.”
A trio of youngsters have provided the Mavericks with a solid and balanced attack across the front line.
Freshman Aliyah Clarkson leads the team in kills with 342, while fellow-freshman Ava Pitzer has 260 kills. Sophomore Maggie Boroski is next with 250 kills and all three are hovering around 40 percent kill percentage.
“The younger ones are really picking up their game and they are learning every day. They are eager to learn and playing hard,” Bradley said. “The experience provided by our seniors this year has been great and a key to our success. They have really helped the younger players to develop throughout the year.”
James Monroe has played well against Greenbrier West this year and Bradley is hoping those tough matches pay big rewards against Ritchie County.
“I know (Ritchie) is really solid defensively. If we can keep our nerves in check and understand we have to take responsibility for our own actions we have a good chance,” Bradley said. “They can’t be afraid to make a mistake at this point. They have to understand they have to give 100 percent all the time and just go for it. Shake off the mistakes and move on to the next play. They can’t get upset at mistakes. We know they want to do well.”
Facing the state tournament atmosphere for the first time is always a concern. Bradley and her staff have worked to give their players a glance at what is to come Wednesday.
“I have told them a little bit about it and showed them some pictures of when we have been there and won the states. They know how the courts are set up and I think they are alright with it,” Bradley said. “We won’t really know until we get there. Hopefully we have them prepared. We are hoping for the best. This team is really getting it in their head that they can win and they keep gaining confidence each time we play.”
The winner of the match will play the winner between Buffalo and Pendleton County in the second semifinal match in Class A. The first semifinal match starts at 6:30 p.m.