RALEIGH — The anticipation had been building long enough for Cardinal Gibbons. Other teams were in their fifth week of the season by the Crusaders were playing their first games.
That meant four extra weeks of practice jerseys and intra-squad scrimmages.
But "practice makes perfect" is an adage that's been taken literally thus far for Gibbons.
The unbeaten Crusaders, No. 3 in the latest News & Observer area rankings, swept No. 2 Apex 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-14) on Saturday. Gibbons, the three-time 3A state champions, had defeated other 4A East powers Greenville Rose and Green Hope in the week prior.
The Crusaders (4-0), with just 10 conference games, have many open dates to try and schedule non-conference opponents but that can be difficult when surrounding conferences jump into league play quickly. Barber decided to use the extra time to run his practices with game situation settings.
"The kids were getting a little restless. I was OK with it a lot of the time because I knew that it was going to help us in the long run," Barber said. "I'm glad that we're finally getting to play and getting to show what we're able to do."
Leading the way in Saturday's win was Wisconsin recruit Haleigh Nelson, Gibbons’ only returning starter from last season. The senior had a game-high 14 kills.
"We were ready to play. Everyone was itching to get on the floor and start the season," Nelson said. "The other teams have played six or seven games and we're like 'Well, this is not going to be a team that goes out and looks like it's their first game. We want to look like we've been preparing for this for the whole month we've been practicing.'"
Gibbons has a younger group this season, and a less business-like approach, according to Nelson.
Freshman Briley Brind'Amour, the daughter of Carolina Hurricanes great Rod Brind'Amour, had six kills.
"This group is really positive and goes out there and has a lot of fun," Nelson said. "We were like an army last year... it felt more like we were going to get it done and then afterward we were going to celebrate."
Apex (9-2, 8-0), which leads the Tri-9 Conference halfway through its league schedule, was paced by Megan Hooks' 13 kills.
"They just outplayed us in every area. We dug well, but their offensive line is strong," said Apex coach Emily Regan. "I'm hoping that we learn from this experience."
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps