Oct. 29—Chapelgate Christian volleyball is no stranger to orchestrating a perfect regular season.
However, last year's quest for total perfection fell one step short as the Yellow Jackets lost in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference championship to Glenelg Country in three sets.
That loss served as a motivating factor for Chapelgate, which returned everyone from last year's team. Not only do the Yellow Jackets (18-0, 10-0 IAAM C Conference) have an unblemished record, but they also didn't drop a set during their first 17 matches.
Chapelgate plays Gerstell Academy on Sunday at 2 p.m. in this year's IAAM C Conference championship game at Stevenson University.
"I think the work they've put in during the offseason has really helped," Chapelgate coach Stephanie Smith said. "Eight of the girls played club ball and they also went to the University of Maryland volleyball camp as a team during the summer. They just really put in the work to get better.
"I think that the loss in the championship game really motivated them and gave them the fire of wanting to come back and be even better," Smith said. "That has really helped this year. Two whole years of them playing together it has really helped them jell and work well together."
After last year's championship defeat, Smith was committed to finding a unique experience for her team. Smith's goals were to further foster team camaraderie, while also helping her girls improve. The University of Maryland volleyball camp provided both of those things.
Chapelgate worked with coaches on the University of Maryland staff on a variety of skills. The Yellow Jackets also furthered their bond by spending added time together off the court with team meals. For a unit already with great chemistry, the trip proved to be only an added benefit.
"It was a very fun camp," sophomore outside hitter Jada Virgin said. "It brought us together as a team because that was the first time seeing each other since the summer. Breaking the ice and seeing each other again was good for us. A takeaway that helped us as a team is the drills that we did. The coaches that we met helped us play together better. We went to watch a Maryland game after the camp and it helped us see how a good team would communicate with each other."
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That communication was put to the test early on in the season as the Yellow Jackets participated in a tournament at Notre Dame Prep. While Chapelgate didn't win every match, it battled tough competition in IAAM A and B Conference opponents. Those matches gave the Yellow Jackets added confidence they could compete against the best.
Virgin has been an integral part of the Yellow Jackets core this season. After suffering a torn ACL early in her freshman year, Virgin rehabbed diligently to return back healthy this season. Two other sophomores, Nathalie Berkelaar and Londyn Camejo, have provided an added youthful spark.
Beyond those young players, Chapelgate has a staple of core veterans, namely juniors Grace Salveron and Madi James, as well as seniors Amanda Morse and Chase Grant.
Salveron is the heartbeat of the offense as the setter. James and Grant contribute to a versatile offensive attack as an outside hitter and middle blocker, respectively, while Morse anchors the defense as the libero. Those contributions from all over the court have instilled a key set of confidence.
"I think it has given them confidence," Smith said. "I also think it puts a pressure on them of everyone expecting it and also having to deliver. We've had challenges this year like last year. Every time we go into a game we don't think, 'Oh we have this game or we're going to stay undefeated.' We still go into the game playing our best and putting out our best effort."
Chapelgate is now one win away from its ultimate goal, avenging last year's title loss and capturing the program's first C Conference crown.
"It would honestly be special for me personally because I've been at Chapelgate for seven years since sixth grade," Grant said. "When I came in my first year, I was on the first ever middle school volleyball team. So to see it from a middle school level to come all the way through and win a title would be great. It would be great for coach, all of us and the whole volleyball program at Chapelgate."