A dynasty in sports is defined as one team dominating a sport season after season. Some argue that a dynasty must win consecutive championships. Most dynasties are only realized in retrospect. They are subjective and often argued upon. However, Thomas Dale’s varsity volleyball can be argued as being a dynasty and one of the top volleyball schools in the Central Region.
Over the last nine seasons, Thomas Dale has achieved an extremely lopsided record of 171-15. Their record speaks volumes alone. Furthermore, the Knights have won 14 consecutive district titles (’95-’08), two consecutive regional titles (’07-’08), and have reached the state championship three out of the past four years, winning in 2007.
“The record is a byproduct of all the players who have played working their butts off and bought into my philosophy of team first, individual second,” Knights head coach Mike Walker recognizes.
Walker took over the head coaching position at Thomas Dale nine years ago with only one year’s experience coaching the Knights’ JV team. He attributes much of their success to the continued dedication from their alumni who come back year after year to work out with the team during the summer.
One player who has continuously returned each year is JV and assistant coach Brett Cole, a 2003 graduate of Thomas Dale.
“He does a great job preparing the kids for varsity,” Walker says. “He can relate what we are trying to do to the kids because he went through it, and I think they respect him for that.”
Both Walker and Cole stress the importance of the older players teaching the younger players. This year’s team is the spirit of that philosophy. Walker believes that the 2009 Knights are a very tight team.
“This is probably the smallest team, height-wise, that we have had since 2005 – very scrappy and full of heart,” Walker says. “I think this group is going to surprise people.”
One of the scrappers is varsity vet Zach Seymour. Seymour was awarded All-State honors last year and remains one of the top players in the region. Walker feels like this could be Zach’s year to break out and lead his team back to a state championship.
Despite the team’s lack of size, they make up ground with their quickness and ability to pass the ball well. With all the success Dale has had over the years, it has promoted them to being the team to beat. They will face good teams in the district like Matoaca and Colonial Heights. Out of district play, Cosby, Clover Hill, and James River will pose a threat to their success.
“Cosby, Clover Hill, and James River are perennial powers in the region,” Walker says. “We have to be focused every night and we must pass the ball well to generate offense.”
Although Thomas Dale finds great success on the volleyball court, the main goal of the team is to “make better people out of players.” Former player Brandon Joyner now plays at George Mason and is in his junior year. Other alumni like Alex Hoffman and Bradley Johnston have moved on to the next level because of their success at Dale. Players like Casey Clarke, Michael Blankenbecler, Chris Hulbert, and Jake Lumsden continue their love of the sport at their respective schools.
Still, with all the success of Thomas Dale as a team and the individual success of his players, Walker remains humble. He finds that the success comes from the dedication of the players and the supportive families that surround them, and attributes his own success to his wife.
“I have a terrific and loving assistant coach in my wife, who has watched a lot of volleyball and adopted a lot of these kids as her own.” Walker says “We just like to feel we are a big family that keeps growing every year.”