Fauquier junior middle hitter Paige Brunsink hasn't changed that much physically. She still has a long, lean frame, sweeps her dark blonde locks back into a ponytail and flashes the smile she did a year ago. On the court, however, she exudes confidence and strength she didn't often display then.
"I think it's that I've matured a lot mentally," Brunsink said. "I've gotten so much experience this past year playing year-round travel volleyball, and the exposure to that kind of competition has really helped me to improve."
Brunsink was named most valuable player at the eight-team Site Management Tournament hosted by Liberty and Fauquier this past weekend, leading the Falcons (4-0) to the title with consecutive victories over George Mason, Broad Run and Potomac Falls. On Tuesday she was dominant again in Fauquier's 25-19, 25-11, 25-15 sweep of host Gar-Field (0-1).
"She's been tremendous," said Falcons Coach Diana Story, whose team went 21-2 last season in winning the AA Northwestern District title but has moved up to the Class AAA Cedar Run. "It's maturity. That's what you're seeing out there. I mean, she has gotten more powerful. But it's the confidence she's found in herself that is really standing out."
Brunsink totaled a match-high 14 kills against the scrappy Indians, and only once when she got hold of a ball was a Gar-Field defender able to dig it up.
"She's talented," Indians Coach Shelley Streed said. "She's got great footwork and a great arm. That's a tough combination."
Brunsink did most of her damage from the middle, though she also looked exceptional on a couple of back sets by junior Linda Maharidge to the outside. Such offensive movement was something that pleased Story, and not just from Brunsink. The Falcons also got five kills from junior outside hitter Erica May and three from junior outside hitter Stephanie Alonso.
"I challenged the girls Friday to run plays," Story said. "Not just be a true outside or true middle or true right-side hitter but to get out there and run plays. We did it well at the tournament on Saturday, but tonight we really put it all together."
The Falcons also showcased powerful jump-serves. Though jump-serving is becoming increasingly popular among area high school players, it is usually limited to a couple of players per team. That's not the case with the Falcons, who had numerous players jump-serve against Gar-Field. Story said that in their first four games, every Falcons player who stepped on the court attempted at least one.
It doesn't always work well. Fauquier misfired on 17 serves during the three-game set, seven of which were on jump-serves. But the Falcons also recorded 15 aces, nine on jump-serves. May led the way with six aces, and Maharidge added five, including the final two points of the match on back-to-back jump-serves.
"I like to see us serving aggressively," Story said. "Every one of our girls can jump-serve, and that's important as we head into our Cedar Run District schedule later in the year. We need to be able to be aggressive at any stage of the game. And we're definitely getting there."