School and sports: Rapp’s varsity volleyball looks strong

Varsity volleyball coach Courtney Atkins (center) poses with this year's so-far-undefeated Panther team.
Varsity volleyball coach Courtney Atkins (center) poses with this year’s so-far-undefeated Panther team. Victor O'Neill Studios

Panther Pride: Spotlight on fall sports

As Rappahannock County Public Schools moves into its fifth week of a new school year, sports programs are in full swing. This fall, Rapp offers a dozen opportunities for fifth- through 12-graders to participate in interscholastic athletics, and all the teams have been hard at work since the beginning of August.

Volleyball leads the way this week, with two returning coaches and one new one looking to continue Rapp’s tradition of success in that sport. Returning varsity coach Courtney Atkins is excited about the prospects of the current season and early wins over key opponents are helping to build that excitement. With a strong returning cast — including several players who earned postseason honors last year — and a determination to advance in the postseason, the varsity team is looking to post a strong record.

Undefeated thus far, the team’s biggest highlight was last Friday’s victory over conference rival Northumberland — the same team that topped RCHS in the last two conference finals and last year’s regional playoffs. Playing a regular season schedule in the tough Bull Run District against larger schools will help prepare the team for the rigors of an extended postseason run, and Atkins and her team are looking forward to the challenges they will be facing.

Coach Seth Wyatt returns to the helm of the JV program and is looking to repeat his team’s district-topping performances of the past two seasons. With the largest squad in recent memory, Wyatt is working to keep the talent pipeline going for the varsity program, seeking to dominate opponents at the same time.

Early results promise an excellent season, with only one close loss so far to conference powerhouse Northumberland. At the Junior Panther level, we have two volleyball coaches who are new to the sport but not to our programs, as Jeff Atkins takes the helm of the squad, assisted by Connie Smith. Looking to build on the successes they have had in basketball and softball, Atkins and Smith have already had had a promising season-opening Valley Middle School Conference win on the road.

All three volleyball teams are in action this week, having played Wednesday at Wakefield Country Day School (too late for this report) and then hosting Fresta Valley tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 11). The JP game will begin at 4:30 with JV and Varsity games scheduled to begin 20 minutes after the conclusion of the preceding games. Coaches Atkins, Wyatt, Atkins and Smith, along with athletics director Brandon Burley, hope the Rapp faithful will fill the gym this Friday to cheer on the teams.

The cross country season is up and running, with several meets for both our JP and varsity squads already completed. Head coach Kenny Burt — who coached our distance runners in track last spring with success — and JP/assistant coach James Sharpe bring years of experience to another Rapp program with a long history of success.

They’re looking to build and improve on a year that saw our girls team take conference and regional championships and come oh-so-close to a state title, and both coaches are confident that both the girls and boys teams will be in the running for top-tier finishes. Fans can come out and watch Rapp’s harriers next Wednesday (Sept. 15), as both our JP and our varsity teams host a meet at the Blue Rock course (directly across U.S. 211 from the high school). JP runners start at 4:30, varsity at 5.

Football returns to Panther Stadium with both returning and new coaches leading our JP and varsity teams. Varsity head coach Mark Heinle returns for his third season, supported by assistant coaches Scott Stephens, Alex Coffroth and Jeff Nicodemus, and all are excited about the largest player turnout in years.

The coaches look to build on the positives of a successful spring and summer that saw more players than ever before completing off-season weight and conditioning workouts and attending summer camps to hone their skills and sharpen their football prowess. There were many bright signs in a preseason scrimmage victory against King and Queen High School, and although the team has dropped its first two regular-season contests, coaches are expecting improvement and progress

The varsity team travels to Page County tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 11) for a 7 p.m. kickoff, and opens their home season next Friday, Sept. 18, against Grace Christian, also at 7 p.m. Come out and see the Panthers do their best on the field and be doubly entertained — as the award-winning Panther Marching Band will unveil a new halftime show.

On the JP gridiron, coach Kevin Ramey returns to the helm of the team and is looking to build on some of the success our JP teams have seen over the past several seasons. Assisted by coaches Coffroth and Nicodemus, Ramey took his team out on the field this Wednesday for their first contest against the Maryland School for the Deaf (results too late for this report). The JP squad returns to Panther Stadium Monday, Oct. 5 to host Prospect Heights for a 4:30 kickoff.

JP boys soccer returns to the pitch under the helm of second-year coach Paul Paratore, who is looking to build on last year’s successful tournament runner-up finish. With his young team having gained a year of experience and practice, Paratore is confident Rapp will be in the running as the VMSC tournament draws near. An early-season win bodes well, and fans can come out and see for themselves in two weeks as the team hosts Fresta Valley Sept. 24 at 4:30.

Last but not least, cheering on our teams is the job of our cheer squad, led by new head coach Gwen Burley. With two cheer squads, JP and varsity, coach Burley, assisted by Janie Jenkins, brings new energy and enthusiasm to the cheerleading program, and fans are sure to notice the difference immediately as our fields and gyms will be filled with the sounds and sights of a dynamic cheer squad.

As always, upcoming schedules and recent results can be found at the Rapp athletics website at, where AD Burley keeps the schedules and scores current.

Go Rapp!

— Jimmy Swindler