The Glenvar volleyball girls left no doubt as to whom the best team in Class 2 is this season. The Highlanders pounded Central High of Woodstock into submission in three sets Saturday at the Salem Civic Center to claim Glenvar’s second ever state volleyball championship, and first since 2006.
Mark Rohrback coached both of those teams, with time out in between to start a family. His wife Jenn and two kids were on the bench with him Saturday and his mom and dad came in from out of town to see the championship match. It was a special day indeed for not only their family, but the whole Highlander community.
“It’s all about the girls,” said Rohrback. “The thing we talked about since day one was to just go out and have fun, and that’s what they did. They have a passion for this game and it shows. When you have fun it takes a lot of the pressure out of it.”
Glenvar’s spring season, rescheduled and shortened due to the pandemic, didn’t end like the girls wanted. After going undefeated in the regular season they lost to Giles in the regional, and the Spartans went on to win the state championship. Rohrback felt like it easily could have been his Highlanders accepting those medals in the spring.
“The spring season didn’t end like we wanted,” said Rohrback. “We picked a bad time to play a bad match.”
Most of those girls returned, and two talented players joined the team. Outside hitter Bailey Conner returned after taking the spring season off and her little sister, sophomore Audrey, also came aboard. Bailey is the only senior on the championship team.
“I didn’t want to miss my senior year, and as the only senior the other girls really made me feel important,” said Conner. “This is such a great feeling, it’s a lot to wrap my head around.”
Glenvar came into the championship match with just three losses. They lost in five sets to Auburn twice, and on Saturday Auburn opened the VHSL championship triple-header by finishing their undefeated season with a sixth state title in Class 1. Glenvar’s other loss was to Floyd County in five sets, and the Highlanders avenged that defeat three times, once in the regular season, once in the region tournament and a third time in the state semifinal last week.
The Highlanders were on an 11 game winning streak coming into the state final while Central came to Salem with a 24-4 record, defeating East Rockingham three sets to two in the other semifinal. The Falcons were looking for their first state championship after finishing second in the state twice.
From the outset, Glenvar came out ready to play. The Highlanders raced to a 13-5 lead off powerful spikes by Bailey Conner, Claire Griffith and Sydney Loder and some outstanding play in the back row. Glenvar finished out the set 25-16.
Central fired back in the second set, taking the early lead. The Falcons led for much of the set before Glenvar caught up at 16-16. It was back and forth until the Highlanders took the lead at 20-19 and finished off the set in a flurry for a 25-20 win.
At this point the Highlanders could smell blood in the water. They opened an 8-4 lead, then made a run to make it 13-6. At 18-10 the writing was on the wall and Bailey Conner’s spike for the final point gave Glenvar a 25-14 win in the third set and the state championship.
“That’s a good team,” said Rohrback of Central. “They led for most of the second set and they made us play our best.”
Statistically, Bailey Conner led the team with 20 kills in the championship match. Griffith had 15 kills, Loder had five, Natalie McMahon had four and Cara Butler had three. Loder had six blocks, followed by Griffith with five and McMahon with four.
Audrey Conner had 21 assists while Butler had 18. Hannah Hylton led the Highlanders with 23 digs. Bailey Conner had 15 digs, Butler had 14, Griffith had 13 and Audrey Conner had 10. Loder had four serving aces while Audrey and Bailey Conner had one each.
The final point set off a wild celebration on the court and in the stands, where Glenvar fans filled up almost three sections of the Salem Civic Center seats. With a 23-3 record the girls accepted their state championship medals, making seven state medals for Griffith, who is also a state champion swimmer for the Highlanders. When the state plaque was presented the girls held it aloft in salute to their classmates and fans, who seemed to enjoy the triumph as much as the team.
“This was completely different than swimming,” said Griffith. “Swimming is an individual sport, but in a team sport like volleyball everyone had to come together to accomplish this. It’s a completely different feeling.”
“We had to trust each other, point by point,” said Bailey Conner, who played for her father, Basil, at Glenvar before Rohrback returned to the bench. Bailey has been a year round travel player and her mother, Stephanie, played volleyball for Salem High in her high school days.
With Bailey being the only senior, Glenvar should be back in the hunt again next year. That’s okay with the girls. As Rohrback said, they’re just out there having a good time.
“We’ve all been playing volleyball for so long,” said Griffith. “We have a huge class of juniors and we’ve been playing together since the fourth grade. We’ve been dreaming of this since middle school.”
And last Saturday at the Salem Civic Center, their dreams came true.