2014-11-26 / Sports

Title Trojans

New coach guides Midlothian to the state championship
By Jim McConnell

Midlothian's Nick Spichiger (left) celebrates after slamming a kill in the fifth game of the 4A state final. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Midlothian's Nick Spichiger (left) celebrates after slamming a kill in the fifth game of the 4A state final. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer After spending four years an assistant coach of James River High’s boys volleyball team and helping the Rapids win back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011, Randy Cox jumped at the opportunity to become head coach at rival Midlothian when that job came open earlier this year.

Beyond an obvious motivation – to share one final season of high school volleyball with his son, Mason, a senior captain at Midlothian – the elder Cox had another reason to be excited about joining the Trojans.

Because his players all live in the same neighborhood and grew up playing volleyball together, Cox has known them most of their lives.

So when that extended family came together last week and capped the 2014 season by winning Midlothian’s first state boys volleyball championship, Cox didn’t bother trying to contain his emotions.

“I just couldn’t be prouder of these boys,” he said after the Trojans outlasted Hanover in a five-game marathon for the 4A title, 25- 21, 23-25, 25-23, 19-25, 15-13, at the Siegel Center.

“It was an amazing match. For some reason, we decided to go five games every time we played Hanover. Three of the four matches, we found a way to come out stronger in the fifth game. It makes it extra special to know when the match is on the line, your guys have the heart to pull through.”

Midlothian, which finished with a 21-7 record, lost four starters from the team that won a regional championship last season before falling to Princess Anne in the state semifinals.

Still, Cox inherited three seniors – Mason Cox, Michael Ball and Max Johnson – who either started or saw action in the Princess Anne match. Johnson said that experience helped the trio prepare their teammates to play well before an energized crowd in a 7,500-seat arena.

“Playing in the Siegel Center is different than any high school gym, so knowing what to expect helped a lot,” he added.

Both teams knew what to expect in last week’s 4A final, which was the fourth time Midlothian and Hanover had faced each other this season.

Predictably, there were wild momentum swings on both sides and each of the five games was decided by one or two critical plays.

“I remember being in the same position last year thinking ‘We’ve got this,’ and then falling short,” Ball said. “There were definitely times today when we could’ve gone south, but we did a great job bouncing back.”

The versatile Ball filled up the stat sheet for the Trojans, finishing with 25 assists, 17 digs, 15 kills and four service aces – but he was hardly a one-man show.

Mason Cox contributed a team-high 32 assists and Johnson pounded 17 kills from his middle hitter position.

Midlothian’s most well-timed contribution came from junior outside hitter Nick Spichiger, who had five of his match-best 21 kills in the fifth and deciding game.

“It all just clicked at the last minute,” he said. “The adrenaline kicked in and I started jumping higher and hitting harder.”

Following the trophy presentation, Spichiger said it felt “amazing” to finish what last year’s team started.

“We knew we could win – it was just a matter of whether we wanted to keep fighting or throw in the towel,” he added. “We decided we weren’t going to stop fighting. We left everything on the court and it paid off for us.”

Randy Cox, who acknowledged it was difficult to sit calmly in his chair as the match went back and forth, recalled a valuable lesson he learned during his four years as an assistant to former James River boys volleyball coach Terry Ford.

Ford’s cool, upbeat demeanor was a major factor when the Rapids came out of nowhere and won the 2010 Group AAA state title as a heavy underdog.

Midlothian wasn’t anybody’s underdog this season, but Cox still recognized the value of keeping his cool when things weren’t going well for his team.

“Terry taught me that the kids will always follow your lead,” he said. “You can’t get too high or too low. If you get excited, the kids will get excited. But if you’re calm, they’ll be calm, too.”

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