Forest Park has continually tweaked its lineup in a search for the right combinations. Now, when the Bruins need it most, the tinkering may have yielded the most effective lineup yet.
Junior right side hitter Amy Trykowski has moved to the middle and junior Sasha Bondje has moved from middle to the right. In a 25-19, 25-19, 25-17 sweep of Hylton on Thursday night in the Cardinal District championship at Gar-Field, Bondje collected 12 kills and Trykowski had seven kills and three blocks.
Bruins assistant coach Rob Gaither said the change is not that big of a deal because Bondje is athletic enough to smoothly make the transition and Trykowski played middle during club ball.
"It's normal in that one thing that we've done over the last few years is we never settle into a lineup before really the last week of October or so," said Gaither, whose team is the defending Virginia AAA state champion. "In practice all season long, we work people at different positions."
"It was funny getting used to," Bondje said. "I wasn't used to the whole rotation, but then I've always wanted to hit outside. When I started practicing, it was like, wow, I can really hit outside. I'm getting the hang of it."
Forest Park (17-5) has won the Cardinal District title all five years the school has been open. The Bruins will host Cedar Run District regular season runner-up Stonewall Jackson in the Northwestern Region quarterfinals Tuesday.
The Bruins are in an interesting position. They enter the postseason with by far the greatest playoff tradition, yet, by losing two out of three matches to Osbourn Park, they cannot really be called the region favorites.
That might mean less pressure to reach another state tournament. Many current team members were not vital cogs on the 2003 championship squad, including Bondje and Trykowski.
"I don't think we really felt the pressure to begin with, honestly," senior Sarah Floyd said. "We went into this season not knowing what to expect. We weren't expecting too much, and we weren't expecting to roll over and just have people beat us. So we've kind of just taken everything as it comes and we just have to keep going the way we are."
The Bondje/Trykowski move has helped.
"Sasha's developed into our best offensive option and having her in the middle with our lack of ball control sometimes sort of takes her out of the offense," Gaither said. "So by moving her to the right side it keeps her more involved in the offense and Amy has turned into hands down our most dominant blocker. Just looking at opponents we could see like Osbourn Park and Douglas Freeman or Mills Godwin . . . they're teams that are very middle heavy."
Hylton (9-12) finished as district runner-up to Forest Park for the fourth straight year. In the district final, senior Mallory Cashdollar had four kills, four solo blocks, two block assists, seven digs and an ace. The Bulldogs will play at Osbourn Park in a region quarterfinal.
"Our passing has improved and we're blocking pretty well right now, and that's going to be key against OP," Coach Karen Mays said. "They're a hard-hitting team with real good ball control. We're playing as good as we've played all year. I think we're in a good place right now as far as being ready to play in the postseason."