Following a season in which they went 7-7 and were upended in the semifinals of the Independent Schools Volleyball League tournament, the Grace Christian Academy boys volleyball team returns all but one starter for the 2017 season.
Grace Christian (1-0, 1-0 ISVBL) shook off a slow start to upend Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School of Montgomery County in straight sets in its March 21 season opener. The Knights, who were slated to face Paul VI (Va.) on Tuesday night, are scheduled to return to action at home versus Don Bosco Cristo Rey of Montgomery County on Friday.
Grace graduated only one starter, Kyle Davis, and the coaches and players are optimistic the squad can return to the ISVBL title round, having won it in 2013 and then been the runner-up the following year.
“We only graduated Kyle, who was a big part of our team,” said Grace coach and alum Nate Schultz. “Even this year we’re still really young, with only two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and one freshman. We’re really just hoping to have more wins than last season and see if we can get at least one round further in the [ISVBL] playoffs.”
Neither of the Knights’ two seniors were available for the season opening sweep at Jewish Day, with libero Sammy Garcia committed to a school play through last weekend, while senior David Jones is academically ineligible until next month. In their absence, junior outside hitter Cameron Satterthwaite, junior middle hitter Isaiah Satterthwaite, junior right-side player Zachary Wittlinger and sophomores Noah Jones, Addison Saunders and Brady Tippett will all gain valuable experience. Libero Robert Twine is the lone freshman on the squad.
“We know we’re going to get Sammy back once the play ends and we’re hoping to get David eligible next month,” Schultz said. “Our younger guys are going to get a lot of playing time. They’re going to learn quickly and become more aggressive on hits. Defensively, we have guys that can cover the floor and pass. Now we have to develop into more aggressive play.”
Cameron Satterthwaite and Jones both viewed the season with cautious optimism and both already hd a trio of teams in mind they were eager to face this spring — Paul VI, Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Montgomery County and Spencerville Academy of Montgomery County. All three of those teams defeated Grace twice last spring, so both Jones and Satterthwaite admitted the measuring stick for the Knights would come against those teams.
“We only graduated one player, so I think we’re going to improve this season,” said Jones, who plans to follow in the footsteps of his father and four older brothers and enroll in a military service after high school, preferably the Marines. “We’re still young. We only have two seniors on the roster and only one of them can play this month. We’re looking forward to playing Paul VI, Spencerville and Hebrew Academy. All of those teams beat us last year.”
“We definitely want to beat Paul VI, Spencerville and Hebrew Academy,” said Satterthwaite, a member of the Grace boys basketball team that ended the winter slate by capturing the Mid-Eastern Regional Christian Schools Tournament championships earlier this month. “We want to go further than we did last year. We made it to the semifinals and lost to Hebrew Academy. So, we would like to be able to come back this year and beat them.”
Grace started slowly in its season opener against Jewish Day but won 25-21, 25-15 and 25-18. For Schultz, it was an early indication of how far the team has come since the first week of practices.
“We didn’t play that well early in the match,” Schultz said. “But then once we figured out what they were trying to do and what we needed to do, it was completely different. After that first set, we played much, much better. Usually us and Jewish Day are fairly even, so I was glad to see us start off by sweeping them. Maybe we can move up a few spots in the standings and get a higher seed for the playoffs.”