The Northwest High School boys’ volleyball team’s side of the net might not always appear to be the most organized. But as the Jaguars’ opponents have learned this spring, there’s a very clear method to the seeming madness; it’s all part of the master plan really.
“Our style is kind of unorthodox,” said sophomore outside hitter Payton Jacobs, who had tallied a team-high 75 kills and 37 aces as of April 30. “We just do whatever we can on the court to help us win. We all just go and try to do whatever we can to prevent the ball from hitting the floor.”
Northwest boys’ volleyball team, which coach Angela Burke said has steadily progressed each of the past four years, is having a breakout season. The Jaguars were 9-1 as of Sunday evening, and the Monday win over crosstown rival Quince Orchard in the season finale secured the school’s first-ever division title.
Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea tweeted Monday night, “With the victory over QO, boys’ volleyball wins the division for the first time in NW history!! Awesome!!!”
Burke noted that the Jaguar boys were motivated by the recent success of Northwest’s two-time reigning state champion girls’ volleyball squad. “When I went to watch the girls at states, I saw a lot of boys in the stands and a few of the boys help the girls out as team managers,” she said. “A lot of the girls will come pepper during practice with the boys and it is kind of uniting. It feels very much like a general volleyball program.”
Northwest’s scrappy style of play is reliant on the Jaguars’ trust in one another and ability to work well together, said four-year varsity player and outside hitter Arthur Wu. Without any seniors last year, the entire team returned this spring. Between that and playing in a winter league—Burke said it’s extremely important for players’ continued development to get touches on the ball during the offseason—the extra time together has paid off, Wu said.
“Volleyball is a very team-oriented sport and building that trust is one of the most important things,” Wu said. “If you’re a setter and you don’t trust your back row, it can all fall apart. We’re one of the few schools that maintained most of our team and it’s really helped us develop as a team, together.”
Jacobs added, “Trust and being on the same page is huge. You need to be able to trust the guy next to you to do what he needs to do and everyone feeds off that. If you don’t trust your teammates, it can turn into hero ball, and that can lead to disaster.”
Northwest’s approach lends itself to a fairly balanced stat sheet. Everyone on the court is a capable playmaker. As of Sunday evening, April 30, senior setter Andy Donado had racked up 104 assists, 35 kills and 26 aces while his sophomore counterpart had 103 assists, 17 kills and 11 aces. Senior middle hitter David Cruz led the team in blocks with 10, followed closely by junior middle hitter Jake MacAfee with nine. MacAfee and Cruz had also contributed 47 and 35 kills, respectively.
Northwest won its first nine matches of the season, before falling to perennial power Col. Zadok Magruder in five sets on April 26. Despite the defeat, Burke said it was one of the best matches in her four years of coaching. The Jaguars trailed 24-21 in the fourth game before reeling off five straight points to push the match to a fifth and final game, which they ultimately lost by two points. But it finally clicked for the boys, she said, that they do have the ability to play at a higher level and compete with the county’s powerhouses. And now they’re hungry, heading toward the postseason.