Daily Press (Sunday)

Grafton runner-up for 10th time

Hidden Valley denies Clippers their first title

- By Robert Anderson

SALEM — When Grafton High’s volleyball program dropped from the VHSL Class 4 to Class 3, Clippers head coach David Keeter knew what obstacle might be on the horizon.

It was the Hidden Valley Titans.

Keeter was prescient. Grafton met Hidden Valley in the Class 3 final Saturday at Salem Civic Center and the Clippers found the team from Roanoke too tough to tame as the Titans claimed the championsh­ip with a 25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 25-19 victory.

The loss ended a 24-5 season for Grafton, which has lost all 10 finals in which the Bay Rivers District team has played, including the previous six championsh­ip matches in Class 4.

Hidden Valley (33-1) claimed its first championsh­ip since 2016 and its third overall after falling 3-2 in the 2022 final to York.

“We’ve watched (Hidden Valley) from day one,” Keeter said. “We know them really well. We always kept an eye on them when we were (Class) 4. To be the best, you have to beat the best. There’s a reason this team has only one loss.”

Hidden Valley ran off in the first two sets behind the all-court play of junior Caleigh Ponn (22 kills, 10 digs, four aces) and the hitting of junior Sophie Arnold (24 kills, three aces).

Ponn, a Kansas State commit who was playing on a torn right meniscus, notched her 1,000th dig during the match. She is a close friend of Grafton star Alexis Keeter, who put on a dominant individual performanc­e with 34 kills and 24 digs.

The 6-foot Grafton outside hitter and the daughter of the Clippers head coach will play beach volleyball next year at Florida Gulf Coast.

While junior Alana Washington had eight kills in 10 attempts, Grafton did not have quite enough firepower to complement Keeter.

“Alana has stepped up and been a breakthrou­gh player for us and she had a good night tonight,” coach Keeter said. “They just get you out of system, so it’s hard to run the middle when you’re not passing the ball. When you’re passing above the tempo line, it’s hard to get the ball to her.”

Hidden Valley senior Lauren Whittaker, who came up with 23 digs, had much of the responsibi­lity of defending Alexis Keeter from the back row.

“I knew I had to adjust,” Whittaker said. “She’s a very powerful hitter, a very good hitter. Listening to my coaches helped me through it, just cheating up and taking the ball was all I had to do.”

Setter Kaylie Klemm had 34 assists for Grafton, while Allyson Burke added 31 digs.

The Clippers trailed 24-22 in the third set, but they extended the match with a miracle rally on kills from Keeter and Washington and an ace on game point.

Grafton cut a 23-14 deficit to 23-19 in the final set before finally settling for the familiar state runner-up role.

“Everybody thinks it’s so easy to make it back here,” David Keeter said. “There’s only two teams here. There’s a whole lot of teams that don’t make it. Fighting as hard as we did, we have a tough district. Bruton was in the (Class 2) championsh­ip.

“Jamestown was in the fifth set to make it in (Class 4). It’s never a cakewalk in district and these girls stepped it up and went undefeated in district.”

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