Serving Up Success

From practice to performance, the Jefferson volleyball team puts in 100% of the effort, and gets 100% of the results.
Serving the ball at the annual Dig Pink volleyball game, senior Captain Zumi Rieske leads her team against Justice High School and helps shift the mindset. “Volleyball is a very mental game. A good mentality and being confident can be the difference between barely making the ball in, or barely out,” Rieske said. “You have to learn to lock in when you’re on the court.”
Serving the ball at the annual Dig Pink volleyball game, senior Captain Zumi Rieske leads her team against Justice High School and helps shift the mindset. “Volleyball is a very mental game. A good mentality and being confident can be the difference between barely making the ball in, or barely out,” Rieske said. “You have to learn to lock in when you’re on the court.”
R. Stotz
Performing their signature cheer, the varsity team celebrates an ace. “We’ve had a lot of new setters come in and work really hard at setting the right tempo. We’ve had a lot of people switch positions and work pretty hard to adjust to that. Everybody being willing and able to adjust to what the team needs when the team needs it is really what I think has been responsible for us being as successful as we are,” Steward said. (R. Stotz)

The serve from senior Captain Zumi Riekse lands just out of reach of the opposing team. One glancing blow, perhaps a second, but it’s no use. With the ball already on its way to the ground, the players and spectators know exactly what’s coming. 

Riekse throws all her weight behind a giant imaginary hammer and slams it down onto the court, sending everyone in the huddle flying in the air. Just as it makes contact, they all chant “Ace!”

For the Jefferson Volleyball team, side-outs, spikes, comebacks, and aces have all become second nature. Ending the regular season at the top of their district with a record of 13-1, and second overall in district playoffs, the team has had one of its best performances in years.

In a game against Hayfield, junior Ava Stewart spikes over the net. Both Stewart and senior captain Zumi Rieske were awarded First Team All District titles for their respective position. “Im really proud of this year…weve lost a lot of good seniors. And each year weve been able to adjust to that and play well despite it, so Im really proud of everybody thats stepped up and taken on a role that they didnt think they would take on to make the program as successful as possible,” Stewart said.
Setting them up…

Unlike most sports at Jefferson, the 45 available slots across the program’s three teams were not enough to match the interest among students. As such, only a select few players could make it on the freshman and junior varsity teams.

“The first part is coachability and being able to be a teammate. The next thing is athletic movements that are needed, such as your lateral movement [and] jumping. After that, the main three skills in volleyball: passing, setting and hitting, and blocking. That’s kind of where cuts are needed, and unfortunately this year they were needed,” Coach Alec Bradley said.

Fortunately, with much of varsity’s roster already familiar with one another, the team was able to hit the ground running.

“I think [there is] a lot of continuity from last year. We have a lot of the same girls. I think that definitely helps that we didn’t necessarily have to work as hard to kind of build a team as most of them have already played together,” Bradley said.

Like all programs, the loss of the graduating class creates holes in the equation. Senior Jessica Chen details how varsity managed this hiccup.

“A lot of people are playing very different positions than they were in the past years. The positions have moved around quite a bit, which has been interesting, but I think all of us have gotten the hang of it, even though we’re still kind of navigating,” Chen said.

As the season progressed, this obstacle quickly became a catalyst for growth among the players.

“I think that has helped us to change mindsets because we’re all kind of learning new things. It’s also helped our mentality going forward that mistakes are okay, and like we can still win even if we’re down,” Chen said.

In addition to filling the holes of last year, players work on simply improving as a team, a job made easier by their shared aspirations.

“The volleyball season has been super successful and super fun mainly because we all are working towards the same goal. We’ve put in so much work since the beginning of August to get here. It hasn’t always been easy, but everybody pushes through what they have to get through to show up and show out,” junior Ava Stewart said.

Stewart attributes the team’s success to their continued dedication to the sport and to the people that come to represent it.

“We have just a really good group of girls. We’ve all kind of been playing together for a long time, whether it’s on freshman to JV, or JV to varsity,” Stewart said. “We all really love the sport, so we show up to practice, and we want to be there.”

In a game against Hayfield, junior Ava Stewart spikes over the net. Both Stewart and senior captain Zumi Rieske were awarded First Team All District titles for their respective position. “I’m really proud of this year…we’ve lost a lot of good seniors. And each year we’ve been able to adjust to that and play well despite it, so I’m really proud of everybody that’s stepped up and taken on a role that they didn’t think they would take on to make the program as successful as possible,” Stewart said. (R. Stotz)
…and knocking them down

While players practice their serves, sets and spikes during practice, there are certain barriers that cannot be drilled.

“One of the challenges of all TJ athletes is switching mentalities from being at school—feeling exhausted, having a bad day from a test—and then having to be on the court and play,” Riekse said. “It’s something that you kind of have to switch and get used to.”

Although the success of their season may indicate otherwise, the team had their fair share of tough games. One in particular, their first matchup against Falls Church, who they went on to face in district finals, was especially captivating. 

“For the [first] Falls Church game, we had lost our setter—she was injured temporarily—so we brought in someone who hadn’t played much in our team, and she was absolutely incredible,” junior Captain Diana McCaskill said. “It was named top five games to watch in Virginia that week, which is pretty exciting because they had gone undefeated so far in the season as had we, so there were a lot of people and it was really hype.”

Part of the excitement of the sport are those comeback moments that get the team going.

“[In] our first game against Falls Church, we won in five sets. It was intense and energetic and competitive. Being in that type of environment where everybody’s giving it their all is my favorite thing about volleyball and my favorite thing about sports,” Stewart said.

Another contender in their division, Hayfield, forced a particularly close game. 

“We pulled off a reverse sweep against Hayfield on Tuesday [October 3], and it was super intense. We started off really low on energy and not doing our best, but we all had the mindset to lock in, pull through, and win three straight sets,” Stewart said. “It was amazing.”

What makes these games particularly draining is the prolonged strain placed on the players.

“The thing about five set matches is that they’re really hard to push through mentally because you can be in the gym for like two and a half to three hours, and the momentum is constantly changing from set to set. It’s a massive mental battle,” Stewart said.

The undefeated record the team carried for a majority of the season placed a target on their backs. In spite of this, the team worked to push beyond the mental game and improve what they could during practice.

“We’ve kind of realized that every team wants to beat us now because we’re first in our conference right now,” McCaskill said. “We’ve definitely been watching their films and kind of analyzing and knowing where the block is and learning better defense around what they have to throw at us.”

Spike in Spirit
The team stands with their advertising signs inside Sunoco after finishing their seasonal car wash fundraiser. Events such as these double as opportunities for team bonding, which benefits the program in the long run. “Everybody who wears a TJ volleyball t-shirt is fully in it, and fully committed. I think that’s why it’s so easy for us to lean on each other and help each other out when we’re in those low energy moments because we spend like a lot of time together off the court,” Stewart said. (C. Riekse)

For many seasoned players, a big part of being on Jefferson volleyball is the various traditions that have come to define their culture. 

“All three levels have the tradition of buying bagels as a game day treat. One person buys bagels for everyone, next game another person buys bagels for everyone. You get game day calories that last through the day,” Riekse said.

To continue with the theme of food items, the team is supported by their very own stuffed animal mascot, Pat the Peach.

“We set [Pat] on the sidelines, and he watches us. Annie [Chiu] is his mother. She is responsible for taking care of him and making sure he is safe and healthy. He comes with us to most of the games,” Stewart said.

While game-day traditions make up a majority of the culture at TJ volleyball, the team still finds ways to branch out into the community. One such event meant to promote Dig Pink involved painting the rock, a process which included a variety of additional design choices.

“Zumi had a pink volleyball that we were able to put up there that we just spray painted,” Dubay said. “We were gonna put a ribbon in the shape of a bow [for] breast cancer awareness but we ended up taking it off. I don’t know where we got the goat from.”

Due to the success from this year, the team hopes to make painting the rock an official part of their season. 

“This year was the first year, [but] it will probably be a tradition in the future. It’s good advertising for the game. When you’re driving into the school, I feel like you’ll see the rock especially if it’s bright pink,” Dubay said.

Beyond Jefferson, the team engages in community events such as their annual carwash.

“Every year around the beginning of September, we have a carwash. We go out to Sunoco usually in Reston and we ask them if we can use four parking spots. Then we hold up our signs on the median and on the side [of the road],” Riekse said.

As one of the only avenues for funding outside of the Academic Boosters, the team makes the most of this tradition to support the program as much as possible.

“[We] bring our little ball with a hole in it for donations, and we wash cars for donations for like four hours. We usually raise a good amount of money from there, and it really helps our program,” Riekse said.

To the coach, even if money isn’t a priority, he views the different ways the team engages with the community as entirely beneficial.

“I think the girls have done a great job of marketing the program and getting the name out there,” Bradley said, “I think getting out there to the community allows people to see, ‘Oh hey, this might be a science and technology school, but the end of the day we do other things and everyone is involved in different activities.’”

In addition to their pink outfits, balloons and streamers, a tradition for Dig Pink is the distribution of carnations to the crowd, “I gave my carnation to my friend Emi Curtis. I picked her just because she’s the one that comes to see my games. I think for me, it’s just a nice tradition for showing appreciation for someone,” Dubay said. (R. Stotz)
Dig Pink

On October 5, Jefferson Volleyball held their annual Dig Pink game against Justice, where they defeated the Wolves 3-0. Originating from West Springfield High School, the tradition seeks to support those impacted by breast cancer.

“Dig Pink is, at its core, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month celebration for volleyball. Pretty much [most] high schools and clubs sports all across the board do it in the month of October. It is just a huge thing in the world of volleyball,” Riekse said. 

All of the day’s proceeds both from tickets and their fundraising booth went to the Side-Out foundation. With such a cause in mind, the players made sure to go all out.

“You get to wear tutus; just all kinds of cool pink things. Diana had these light up shoes that were really fun,” Dubay said. “It’s fun to wear face paint. You always remember to regret wearing it the second year when you’re stuck on the court and you’re sweating, and the pink is running everywhere.”

Team Spirit
Posing in the Dome for Beach Day, varsity always brings their best when it comes to spirit days. “We’ve always had a lot of participation to the point where if you don’t participate, you’re left out. It’s almost embarrassing not to participate,” junior Reva Galagali said. (R. Galagali)

Beyond their performance this season, the volleyball team prides themselves on the wide variety of spirit days they have brought to this year.

“Overall these spirit days make it fun to go to school, and show your TJ volleyball spirit. When you look across the halls to some random player, it doesn’t really matter what division they’re on, we can be like, ‘Wow, they’re a part of TJ volleyball.’ It’s very fun,” Riekse said.

Although the spirit days are used as a way to build team unity, there is a unique importance placed on them by the seniors.

“I definitely think it helps that seniors try to go all out for spirit days, just because it’s our last year. I think just keeping that standard as we had for the past couple of years has kind of helped us,” Chen said.

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