Cardinal Gibbons has a tradition of producing outstanding volleyball teams and players.
Last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A champions were led by Stanford recruit Madison Bugg, one of the top high school setters in the country and the most valuable player in the past three 3A state championship matches.
But after winning six NCHSAA titles in the past seven years (Gibbons lost to North Surry in the 2008 championships), the Crusaders’ well doesn’t look as deep this season.
Haleigh Nelson, a 6-foot-3 senior, is the only veteran with extensive high school playing time.
Other teams to watch
Leesville Road: The Pride is expected to be one of the area’s best teams. Coach Taine Mergenthaler returns nine starters from a 16-4 club, including senior outside hitter Sasha Karelov, the Cap Eight’s player of the year in 2011 and a Duke recruit. Libero Kati Stammen was an all-conference pick last year. Other potential standouts include senior setters Zipporah Foster and Allison Stone and junior outside hitter Sam Brown.
Wakefield: The Wolverines return three starters from a 23-3 team. Senior outside hitter Lauren Saxby had 304 kills and 59 aces. Junior Gabby Benda had 208 kills. Darian Mack and Jordan Glass return in the middle. Senior Crystal Widom, a setter and right side hitter, is a transfer from Florida. “We graduated six seniors so this is a rebuilding year for us,” said Wakefield coach Cynthia Terrell. “But we should be fun to watch.”
Green Hope: The Falcons finished 24-2 in 2011 and reached the state semifinals before losing to Wilmington Hoggard. Coach Karl Redelfs’ club has gone 41-6 in his two seasons as head coach. Seniors Madison Brown and sophomore Margot Ruffieux lead the attack. Setter Caroline Neideffer is an Appalachian State recruit.
Chapel Hill: Sherry Norris, a 35-year coaching veteran, has four starters returning from a 23-5 team. Delaware recruit Megan Blunden is a two-time all-conference pick as an outside hitter. Senior Hannah Blackburn and junior Catherine Romaine were all-conference selections in 2011 along with junior Perry Ramsey, who played at East Chapel Hill last season. Senior Maggie Evans is a four-year letter winner. The Tigers have reached the state 3A quarterfinals the past two years.
Apex: The Cougars are a traditional volleyball power and new coach Emily Regan has a solid group to rebuild from last year’s 19-5 club. Megan Hooks (101 kills) and Brianna Belicic (99 kills) lead a group of veterans that includes Melissa Mayfield and sophomores Ally Beckham and Anna Patrick.
Cary: The Imps return five starters from last year’s 13-10 team. Coach Phillip Goodloe calls setter Rachel Weisz the best in the Tri-Nine 4A Conference. Leah Blackley returns at middle hitter.
St. David’s: The Warriors were 33-0 in 2011 and won the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A state championship.
Raleigh Grace Christian: The Eagles were NCISAA 2A state runners-up in 2011. They graduated only one player from that 28-5 club. Skyler Dascombe and Lydith Rooth lead the veterans.
Cary Academy: The Chargers reached the NCISAA 3A semifinals for the fourth straight season in 2011 and finished 23-9. Junior Moriah Smith (376 kills) and setter Elizabeth Carlton have helped the program build a 91-13 record over the past three years.
Garner: The Trojans return five starters from a 20-4 team. Senior Kristen Powell, a middle hitter, was the Greater Neuse player of the year and is committed to UNC-Wilmington. Junior setter Courney Weathersbee and junior outside hitter Ka’asha Jefferies were all-conference picks.
Saint Mary’s: The Saints were 3-12 in 2011, but new coach Jim Freeman has coached 10 state championship teams. Maddie Plumlee is one of the top players in the area.
Sanderson: The Spartans return their starting lineup, including Liberty middle blocker recruit Nzea McQuitery. Setter Natalie Bouchard is a three-year varsity starter and two-year team captain. Junior outside hitter Kimmy Thompson helps the attack.
Millbrook: Juniors Tara Dotzauer and Stephanie Stieber lead four returning starters from a 16-5 club.
Durham Science & Math: Kim Keither holds most of the school records for assists and Andrea Kirk led the team in blocks in 2011. Jenny Wei and Mary Polettie also are returning starters.
Bunn: Sophomore Tainasha Vines led the Wildcats in kills and blocks during a 26-5 2011 season.