There were times a year ago when Catherine Vaccaro would stare across the court during practice and wonder why. The Yorktown junior varsity team scrimmaged the varsity — and won — something not terribly uncommon.
The JV team went 16-0 in 2015. The varsity went 7-10. And in practice, Vaccaro, then a sophomore starting on varsity, would look over the net and tell herself to wait for next year.
“It was frustrating and exciting,” she said. “I knew next year I get to play with them.”
Now, the 2016 season has arrived, and the No. 8 Patriots are 10-2 and riding a six-game winning streak. They boast an early-season win against perennial contender Madison. They haven’t lost since August.
“This year we have a lot more skill,” Vaccaro said. “We’re clicking as a team.”
Coach Sheena Eldred credits her underclassmen for that success.
She brought six JV players — three freshman and three sophomores — to varsity this season. Eldred wanted to bring them all up last year, but there wasn’t enough playing time to go around, she said. She could sit them on the bench and maybe win a few more games with timely substitutions, or leave them on a JV squad that would dominate. She chose the latter.
“We took a hit with the varsity last year to keep the younger girls together,” she said. “But I would have rather had 17 girls on the bench and have them all on varsity.”
As a compromise, she combined the JV and varsity practice and grouped girls from both squads together during drills. They’re all going to be on the same team at some point, she reasoned, and she wanted the underclassmen to give the seniors “a run for their money.”
That led to equal parts excitement and frustration, Vaccaro said. It’s not easy to lose a regular-season game only to come back to practice the next day and drop a scrimmage to girls younger than you. Wait ’til next year, Eldred told Vaccaro and the other six players set to return.
They did. Now Yorktown will look to extend its winning streak to seven games Thursday at Westfield.
The Big number: 126
Player of the week
The transfer from Indiana is fitting in just fine. Manusky finished with 19 kills — including the game-winner — in Tuesday’s four-set victory over Stone Bridge. She has 96 kills and 74 digs on the season for the undefeated Falcons.
Christa Clark had front row seats alongside Northern’s reserves during the 2015 Maryland 3A state championship run, and she watched closely, knowing in the back of her mind that she’d be taking center stage this fall.
While their full attack returned, the Patriots graduated their entire back line, including Natalie LaPlaca (Navy), leaving first-year starters such as Clark, a junior defensive specialist, to step in for a team that hasn’t lost since 2014.
“It did work last year,” Clark said. “This year we’re trying to do the same thing and really compete in what we’re doing.”
The transition hasn’t been perfect, Clark said, but Northern (10-0) and its new back line have had the same old winning results this season. JuniorJenna Jaeger and junior transfer Baylee Bird have helped round out an experienced lineup featuring senior middle blocker Sam Frost and junior outside hitter Amanda Chew, the 2015 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
“We want to keep up our success from last season and make sure we don’t let anyone down,” said Chew, who has stepped into more of a full-court role. “It’s kind of like a new start since we lost so many seniors and it kind of pushed us to work even harder.”
Sixth-ranked Northern has yet to drop a set this season, surviving several set points in the Westminster Invitational against Sherwood, and defeating Atholton in the tournament final. The Patriots extended their winning streak to 31 against St. Charles on Monday, and could face their toughest challenge in an Oct. 11 road match against SMAC rival Huntingtown, which is responsible for their most recent loss in the 2014 playoffs.
The streak is “always sort of in the background,” Frost said, and they want to keep it going.
“This is a new season; we have new people,” Frost said. “[We want to] work together as a new group and build off that on our own, too.”
The Post Top 10
Northwest swept Clarksburg and Kennedy and has yet to drop a set this fall. . . . Briar Woods beat Ashburn rival and then-No. 10 Stone Bridge in four sets on Tuesday night. . . . Led by Maxine Friedman’s 28 kills, O’Connell swept Paul VI. . . . Middleburg Academy hasn’t lost a set since Aug. 27. . . . Holy Cross swept Elizabeth Seton to rejoin the rankings riding riding a nine-game winning streak.
1. Northwest (5-0) LW: 1
2. Briar Woods (9-0) LW: 2
3. Langley (12-1) LW: 3
4. Loudoun County (6-1) LW: 4
5. O’Connell (14-0) LW: 5
6. Northern (10-0) LW: 6
7. Middleburg Academy (14-1) LW: 7
8. Yorktown (10-2) LW: NR
9. Chantilly (6-1) LW: NR
10. Holy Cross (9-1) LW: NR