by Brian Hoffman
How do you improve on a season with a 23-3 record that ends in a state championship? How about a season with a state championship and an undefeated 26-0 record?
The Glenvar girls did just that Saturday at the Salem Civic Center as they completed their 2022 season with a three-set win over East Rockingham, completing an undefeated season. It was the second year in a row the girls won the Class 2 title and they polished off the Eagles for their 38th win in a row going back to the 2021 campaign.
This year hasn’t just been a winning season, it’s been a dominating season for the Highlanders. They only lost one set all season among the 79 they played, a 26-24 loss to Floyd County in the middle of the regular season.
“You can’t get much better than 78-1,” said coach Mark Rohrback. “And that loss was to a really good team.”
With that resume, including a win over previously undefeated Appomattox in the Region 2C final a week prior and a three set win over perennial state power Gate City in the state semifinals, the Highlanders were decided favorites over East Rockingham. The Eagles came in with a 26-6 record and hopes of a state title themselves, but when it was all said and done the Highlanders held the first place trophy again with a 25-18, 25-11 and 25-18 win.
Glenvar was in clear control all the way. The Eagles were as close as 18-16 in the first set before Glenvar closed out with a 7-2 run. In the second set Glenvar jumped off to a 10-5 lead, then went on a 9-3 run before taking the set 25-11. In the third set East Rockingham battled hard and led 14-13 at one point, but Glenvar closed on a 12-4 run to put it away, with senior Sydney Loder pounding the final point. Glenvar controlled the net, sending the Eagles diving on the floor from hard spikes from the likes of Glenvar front line standouts Claire Griffth, Hannah Hylton, Rhyan Harris and Loder. Those four combined for 36 kills.
“They were a solid team and they attacked well,” said East Rockingham coach Jonathan Williams. “You have to play perfect volleyball to beat a team like that.”
Griffith finished with 13 kills, nine digs and two aces. Hylton had 11 kills, 17 digs and three aces while Loder had 8 kills on 11 swings and four blocks. Harris had four kills and three blocks. Rohrback pointed to setter Audrey Conner’s skill as a big part of that attack.
“Audrey does a great job,” he said. “The hitters can expect the same ball from Audrey every time.”
Conner assisted on 38 of Glenvar’s 75 points and she also contributed eight digs and three blocks. Libero Cara Butler had a team high 19 digs and served up three aces.
The Highlanders will graduate five seniors from this team and it’s been a passion for the girls since the fourth grade. Griffith, Hylton, Loder, Harris and Butler dreamed of this moment when they were little girls.
“It’s always been our goal,” said Butler, whose mother Stephanie is the Glenvar Middle School and father Ray is a middle school assistant and stat keeper for the big girls. “This moment is bittersweet, because we’re best friends and now it’s over. We wanted to play the maximum number of games this season and we were able to do that, and we had so much fun. That’s probably why we were undefeated.”
Rohrback echoed those sentiments. He couldn’t say enough about the character of the girls on his team and their approach to the game.
“Never one time have I seen one of our girls turn to another and try to place blame,” he said. “They just talk about what happened and figure it out. They bring out the best in everyone and that’s what makes the game fun. They’ve been a real pleasure to coach and that’s a testament to their character.”
This is the third state championship team Rohrback has coached. Glenvar won the state volleyball championship in 2006 but a few years later Mark stepped down to spend more time with his budding family. He returned three years ago and now his family is part of the team. Wife Jen, a former Highlander player, is his assistant, daughter Emily plays for the middle school team and young son Luke is a “go-for” for dad’s team. They all sit on the bench, or at least three of the four do as dad is constantly standing while coaching and encouraging the team.
“Once the match starts I forget they’re even there,” said Rohrback with a chuckle. “The kids are around these girls every day and they’re great role models. Emily loves these girls like they’re family.”
The five seniors have been like family, and they presented Mark with a tie with all their pictures on it. He wore it when Glenvar won the district, region and state championships and it will forever be a reminder of the bond he’s had with those girls and this team as they go on to bigger things.
Griffith, who is also a champion swimmer, will head to Bridgewater to play volleyball. Harris has committed to Emory & Henry for basketball while Butler is still deciding on her choice, but she’d like to play college volleyball. Loder is a track standout who will likely run in college.
“They’ll figure it out,” said Rohrback.
The Highlanders aren’t leaving the cupboard bare. Conner returns along with several girls who likely would have been starters on other teams.
“Daisy Ann (Dawyot) would have been a starter on every team we played this year,” said Rohrback.
Glenvar also returns a key player in outside hitter Natalie McMahon, who played sparingly in the championship match after she was injured in a collision in the state semifinal win. Junior Jamie Forster had three kills against East Rockingham and Rohrback worked in many of the underclassmen during the season. The Highlanders also had successful jayvee and middle school teams.
“We know we’ll have a target on our back once again,” said Rohrback. “It seemed like every time we stepped on the court this year our opponent would play their best match of the season. Other coaches told me that all the time.”
They played their best matches, but they weren’t good enough to keep pace with a very special Glenvar team. The two-time champions soaked in the warmth of a big pro-Glenvar crowd at the Salem Civic Center Saturday as they accepted their state medals, and for five girls it was the culmination of eight years of hard work, and fun.
“We treated every point like it was our last,” said Griffith. “We’ve bonded together so much and to win the state championship in our last match together is very special.”
Indeed, it’s been a very special group.
“They earned my love, respect and admiration,” said Rohrback. “This team has made the whole community proud.”