Watch out. While driving along Routes 66, 50 or 28 to Centreville, Chantilly or Westfield, your car could very well get pinged by a white sphere manufactured by Tachikara.
Or, for those unwilling to take their eyes off the road, a volleyball.
The sport is becoming awfully popular in the western part of Fairfax County.
“I think volleyball is getting more popular and people are starting to realize that it’s a fun sport,” said Chantilly junior Samantha Reeves.
Centreville, Chantilly and Westfield all are members of the Concorde District, a seven-team league that has trounced the rest of the Northern Region volleyball landscape this season. Through Tuesday night’s games, the Concorde had a winning percentage of .710 (76-31), while the Liberty (.505), Patriot (.480) and National (.310) Districts have been winning at a significantly lesser clip.
More specifically, Centreville, Chantilly and Westfield had built a combined 37-10 (.787) record, accounting for almost half of those 76 wins.
“I think it’s taken off, and I think that has put more pressure on us in the Concorde District to keep raising our level of play,” said Westfield coach Jim Bour, who has been with the Bulldogs (13-4, 3-0 Concorde) since 2003. “The one thing that I think really sticks out is the stability to the coaching staffs in our district.”
Bour is joined by Chantilly coach Charles Ezigbo and Ken Moser from Centreville. All three run organized, intense programs and have loaded their schedules with difficult non-district tests. All three have also developed some stability at their respective schools.
Ezigbo has been at Chantilly since 2001, while Moser has been at Centreville for the past nine years. The three coaches, on average, have been in place for about seven and a half years each.
“I’m sure the reason that a lot of programs are successful is because the coaching staff doesn’t vary that much,” said Centreville senior Allie Darling, who has totaled 121 kills this season, an average of 2.5 per game for the Wildcats (9-6, 1-2 Concorde).
<b>THE PLAYERS HAVE</b> also started to work more with club volleyball teams. Through feeder programs such as Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) and Chantilly Youth Association (CYA), as well as with the emergence of organizations such as Virginia Elite, players are exposed to volleyball at a much younger age. The players enter high school programs with much more experience, allowing coaches to focus on the program as a whole.
“The way I look at it, I’m not just coaching one team … I’m coaching the program,” said Chantilly coach Charles Ezigbo, whose Chargers are 15-1 overall, 3-0 in district play this season. “Even though you have feeder programs into your program, you also work with your junior varsity and your freshman to set it up so when they get to the varsity level they know your system.”
According to Langley coach Sue Shifflett, whose team played for the Virginia AAA state title last season, western teams have benefitted from the more rigorous club volleyball schedule where eastern teams only practice one or two days a week.
“Those kids have been exposed to volleyball at
a younger age,” said Shifflett, whose team is 12-4 this season, undefeated in Liberty District, but has lost to Centreville and Westfield. “We don’t have the exposure to volleyball on the eastern side of the county that they do on the western side, so I think that makes a big difference.
“We have soccer kids over here. We have to hope they burn out on soccer, and then they come play volleyball.”
<b>ACCORDING TO SHIFFLETT</b>, size could also play a factor. Out of the 30 high schools that comprise the Northern Region, Westfield ranks first in enrollment (3,171) and Chantilly ranks second (2,838), according to numbers posted on the Fairfax County Public School System’s Web site. Centreville, with 2,282 students in grades nine through 12, ranks seventh.
The high enrollments have obviously provided
Centreville, Chantilly and Westfield with a larger number of players to choose from, but all three have also enjoyed the privilege of having more athletes focused solely on one sport.
“A lot of their kids can play all year and they’re not being shared by other sports like basketball,” said Shifflett, whose school ranks 12th with 2,083 students. “That was the key to our success [last year]. We had 11 out of 12 kids playing club volleyball year round.”
With the three schools located within about a four-mile radius, and with the old time-tested rule that only one team can win a match, parity and rivalries are sure to develop. The players see each other repeatedly through those club and high school schedules, scouting one another and keeping tabs on what each player has been doing.
Darling and Reeves both insisted that the rivalry was friendly but competitive, and as the team’s records prove, parity is certainly something that the three teams encounter each night.
“On any given night, any one of us can beat any one of us,” Moser said. “So it’s a good thing.”