Abby Bottomley and Spencer Rizzo share the vivid memory of last year’s heartache.
The Princess Anne girls’ volleyball co-captains remember their loss to Briar Woods in the 5A state championship game as if it happened yesterday.
The Cavaliers held a 2-0 set lead and reached match-point in the fifth set before surrendering three straight scores and falling 16-14.
“The moment that ball hit the ground, it felt like all of our hard work was for nothing,” recalled Bottomley. “It just ended.”
“We came back this year knowing we don’t want to go through that again,” Rizzo added. “We’re going to do everything we can to get that point.”
“That point” has been the motivational motto for this year’s Cavaliers.
Coach Craig Dooren’s girls have taken out the built-up frustration on their opponents, racing to a 15-2 record and top seat in the Atlantic Conference standings.
“We always tell the girls that we never consider a loss a defeat unless you accept it and leave it unchallenged,” Dooren said of last year’s sting. “They want to learn from what happened and grow from that. I have the right girls to do that. They’re even keel and very hard to rattle.”
The Cavaliers have had to pick up where two of the program’s all-time greats left off.
Alex Toben, the former 5A South Region Co-Player of the Year and Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, now plays at Virginia Teach. Margaret Latchford, last year’s South Region and Conference first-team libero, starts at Liberty University.
“It would have been very unfair to come in this year and try to replace some of those girls,” Dooren said, “impossible to do.”
“But if everyone steps up their game a little bit, that’s how we replace someone like Alex and Margaret,” he said. “That’s what this team has done. They’ve all stepped up to another level.”
This team may be Dooren’s deepest group of talent in all his 17 years coaching the program.
The Cavaliers returned five starters from last fall, including a couple of juniors who started during the team’s run to the state semifinals in 2013.
Alyssa Presto makes her claim as one of the state’s top setters after earning first-team all-state honors last year as a sophomore.
The crafty junior (455 assists) quarterbacks a versatile offense loaded with an array of talented hitters.
Bottomley (112 kills, 165 digs, 44 aces), the junior hitter, has emerged as “one of the premier players in the state,” according to Dooren. Chika Osuchukwu (125 kills, 34 blocks) is a formidable presence in the middle alongside Jayna Francis (112 kills), the 5-foot-11 freshman outside hitter.
Rizzo (70 digs, 24 aces), the senior libero, leads a very skilled defense along with juniors Ashley Burgess (90 digs) and Peyton Washington (100 digs, 50 kills). Julia Rochester (51 kills) and Addie Blackwell (48 kills) provide consistent hitting for the core rotation.
“It’s comforting to know the spread of talent we have on this team,” Rizzo said. “We know that regardless of who’s on the floor, they’ll do their job.”
So far, they’ve done their job well.
With their depth, experience and last year’s loss driving them, the Cavaliers seem suited for another run to the state final.
“The motivation is there,” Rizzo said. “We just have to stay consistent and make a run for every single point. Last year’s point showed us how hard we have to work to get back there.”
Follow Joe Saade’s coverage of Virginia Beach high school sports on Twitter @SouthsideTeams. To submit story ideas, or to suggest players or teams to profile, email him at Joe@southsidedaily.com.