757Teamz boys volleyball preview: Kellam begins season at No. 1 with Indian River and Kempsville close behind

757Teamz boys volleyball preview: Kellam begins season at No. 1 with Indian River and Kempsville close behind

5 things you should know

Falcons eyeing reset

Cox, the most stalwart and consistent boys volleyball program in the area, is in transition. The Falcons graduated two-time All-Tidewater Player of the Year Daniel Hurley and several others, and coach Mariellen Gero stepped down. Tom Semmel, who has coached middle school and recreational volleyball, takes over for his first high school gig. He’ll be assisted by Nate Keating, who played at Cairn University in Pennsylvania.

Replacing a legend

Longtime Ocean Lakes coach Heath Boomer stepped down following last season after reaching three state finals and cementing the program as a perennial contender. One of his former players, Evan Ballinger (Class of 2015), has climbed the coaching ranks, first assisting with Boomer, then coaching Kempsville the past three seasons. Now Ballinger is succeeding his former coach with “18 great kids that have pushed each other since day one of conditioning,” Ballinger said. “Only time will tell how far that’ll take us, but I’m excited to find out.”

Private-school rivalry

Cape Henry and Norfolk Christian have built a solid rivalry in the small Tidewater Conference, which fields just a handful of boys volleyball teams. Cape Henry took the TCIS title last season, knocking off Norfolk Christian in the semifinals, and those matches could be more competitive this year. The Ambassadors return all starters, including Landon Brinkley, and the Dolphins have one of their deeper teams, including star Tristan Whitfield.


The ever-evolving postseason for Virginia High School League boys volleyball had another change last season when only two state champions were crowned: Class 6 — which combined Class 6 and Class 5 teams — and Class 4, which includes all schools Class 4 and below. Only Richmond and Hampton Roads field boys volleyball teams, and realignment meant there were too few teams in Class 6 to stage its own tournament. It does provide the opportunity to see state tournament matchups not seen since the Group AAA days that ended in 2012.

Bringing in outside talent

As a smaller sport, boys volleyball can be difficult to recruit for. Area coaches regularly attempt to fill out their rosters with basketball standouts or anyone else who can be convinced to try something new. Princess Anne coach Jeff Kinser has been one of the best at it, and this season he’s brought in basketball player Will Bland and soccer player Reid Miller, both senior middle blockers. The results speak for themselves. Many of Kinser’s two- or three-sport standouts end up as vital components who earn postseason accolades.

Preseason Top 15

1. Kellam

The Knights certainly will be the area’s most improved team. Finishing 6-10 last season and losing a five-set match to Ocean Lakes in the region quarterfinals, Kellam returns veterans and has talented underclassmen to make for a potent lineup. Outside hitter Morgan Makovec, OH Bryce Lovell, MB/setter Will Pyka and opposite hitter Joel Eanes are back, along with Green Run transfer MB Michael Barchard. “In my opinion, I believe Kellam has the most experience compared to any other team in the Beach,” coach Aaron Campbell said.

2. Indian River

Senior setter Beckham Rombaoa and senior libero Andrew Dieck, both three-year starters, return as the backbone for the Braves. Coach Matt Lawrence has proven the program is not to be underestimated, and that’s the case this year despite graduating top hitters Titus Blackburn and Jacob Neff. Seniors Kei Nichols and Matt Sheppard will take over at outside.

3. Kempsville

Star outside Carson Strawbridge returns after an injury sidelined him for most of his junior season. His brother, Wyatt, joins the team as a freshman setter/opposite. “Wyatt has been playing club volleyball and has the skill set to follow in his brother Carson’s footsteps,” new coach Timothy Gamble said. Junior MB Ryan Pecora, junior OH/opp Seth Parker and sophomore setter Brennan Walker are back.

4. Princess Anne

Senior setter Nico Santos and senior outside Wes Clevenger lead the Cavaliers, who “are looking much better than expected at this point in the season,” coach Jeff Kinser said. “This will be our tallest starting lineup that we have had for some time.” Sophomore opp Walt Clevenger, junior libero William Sanzone, senior OH/opp Landon Parris and sophomore OH Gabriel Ng return.

5. Ocean Lakes

Senior OH Leandro Cortado leads a transitioning Dolphins team under first-year coach Evan Ballinger, an Ocean Lakes alum who coached at Kempsville the past three seasons. Cortado is joined by senior MB/OH Finn Copen, junior setter Donovan Velazquez and junior opp Vincent Yi. Juniors Barrett Scharfe (libero/OH) and Nathan Brock (MB) are newcomers to watch.

6. Cape Henry

Elite hitter Tristan Whitfield, who is scheduled to return from injury in mid-September, grabs all the eyeballs, but the Dolphins are a deep team this season. Sophomore MB Sebastian Whitfield, Tristan’s brother, moves inside while senior Yoon Chae shifts from libero to setter. Junior libero Kyle Krooner, junior OH Zack Duncan, junior OH Tanner Schaedel and junior opp Ty Adamson also return. “We have a big, highly physical and athletic team,” coach Monica Scott said.

7. Norfolk Christian

All starters return for the Ambassadors, led by senior OH Landon Brinkley and junior OH CJ Coleman. Sophomore setter Landon Pruhs is back while eighth graders Caleb Clark (libero) and Caleb Gyorfi (MB) have bright futures. “We should be in position to capitalize on the potential the guys showed last season,” coach Caleb Brooks said.

8. Great Bridge

Experience will play a key role in the Wildcats’ success as “this past off-season saw the greatest number of GB players remaining active in the sport through a variety of area club teams,” coach Bryan Stambaugh said. Seniors Ryan Poff (OH), Mikey Barron (opp) and John Hanson (OH) lead the way with sophomore setter Charlie Cooper. Sophomores Johnathan Badowski (MB) and Davian Hugh (libero) also will contribute.

9. Oscar Smith

Max Kuntz returns to coach his alma mater, which reached the Class 6 Region A semifinals last season after topping rival Western Branch in the quarterfinals. Senior OH Christian Harris returns to lead the Tigers.

10. Hickory

Only one starter returns for the Hawks, who enjoyed an unforgettable run to the state semifinals last season, but “we have a very solid group of club-experienced returners as well as a few promising newcomers,” coach Michael Jump said. Junior OH Elijah Woods, senior opp/MB Nathan Chmielewski, junior OH Nathan Amos, junior setter Cole Coston and senior libero Luke Williams are back.

11. Maury

Senior OH Hayden Lynch guides the Commodores along with junior OH Zeb Morgan and sophomore libero Zach Mendoza. Freshmen Keegan Anuar (setter), Zia Peterson (MB) and Frank Morgan (opp) set up a bright future for Maury, which won the Class 5 Region B championship last year.

12. Warwick

The Raiders continued their Peninsula District success last season and rolled in the playoffs to a Class 4 Region A Eastern title before falling in five sets to Colonial Heights in a state quarterfinal.

13. Cox

Senior libero John Broccoletti will be a pivotal leader for the Falcons, who graduated a stellar class that included two-time All-Tidewater Player of the Year Daniel Hurley, Chris Peters, Kyle Schlaepfer and Collin Whitney. Senior MB Ray Jackson, sophomore OH Zach Hamilton and freshman setter Thomas Moore look to put their own stamp on the tradition-rich program.

14. Grassfield

The Grizzlies look to return to the postseason under first-year coach Paul “Chip” Emler. Junior OH Christian Smith, senior OH AJ Prest and senior MB Aidan Hunt return with junior MB Riley Dove and junior setter Daniel Morin. “This year’s team is coming together quickly,” Emler said.

15. Granby

The Comets lost to Cox in the region quarterfinals but should again see success in the Eastern District, where all four matches with rival Maury were hotly contested.

High 5

Leandro Cortado, Ocean Lakes

A 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter, Cortado averaged 14 kills per match last season and was named first-team All-Tidewater.

Andrew Dieck, Indian River

The senior earned first-team All-Tidewater honors last season when coach Matt Lawrence called him “the best libero in Tidewater.”

Joel Eanes, Kellam

Already 6-foot-8 as a sophomore opposite hitter, Eanes trained with U.S. Volleyball’s U16 National Team Development Program.

Carson Strawbridge, Kempsville

A four-year starter, the senior outside hitter is a “dynamic player and possible NCAA Division I prospect,” coach Timothy Gamble said.

Tristan Whitfield, Cape Henry

A 6-foot-7 senior outside hitter, he is “considered one of the best players in the country,” coach Monica Scott said, and competed on the U.S. U19 Indoor National Team that in May won gold at the Pan American Cup.

Ray Nimmo, ray.nimmo@pilotonline.com