Originally published at WashingtonPost.com.
For Middleburg Academy sophomore blocker Chelsea Penfield, there’s nothing like a good swing at the net. She can feel it in her legs, she says, when the ball arrives on time from her setter, when she’s around the other team’s block, when the defense has left a gap open for her to smash the ball through.
“I hang in the air and everything stops for two seconds,” she said. “It’s the best feeling.”
In No. 5 Middleburg’s straight-set win Tuesday over Flint Hill (25-23, 25-18, 25-21), Penfield finished with 10 kills, plus seven solo blocks.
Middleburg Coach Maureen DiClementi’s motto for her team is “own the net.” Led by Penfield, the Dragons (3-0) did just that.
Her elastic reach kept Flint Hill hitters honest; the Huskies (1-1) tried to set middles for Hana Lee and Siron Hardy to open the match. By the end of the first set, they couldn’t any longer. Penfield’s block had arrived.
Her swings at the net on offense often overwhelmed the Flint Hill backcourt.
It’s a long way from a season ago, DiClementi said. When she was a freshman, Middleburg didn’t set Penfield. She didn’t have enough control to keep the ball inbounds or away from the block. But she was too athletic to keep out off the court, her coach said, so DiClementi worked her hard in practice.
This season, she’s the Dragon’s top hitting option.
“She told me everything I need to work on, and I did,” Penfield said. “My court IQ is a whole lot higher from getting put in my place.”
DiClementi had that conversation with almost her entire roster last year. Middleburg only has three seniors, one of whom — hitter Meagan McDonald — is out for the year with an ACL tear.
Imagine trying to keep nine 14- and 15-year-olds focussed during practice, especially when for most it’s their first taste of varsity volleyball.
“They’re babies,” DiClementi said. “We are very disciplined. We have to be.”