Cardinal Gibbons High girls volleyball coach Logan Barber had more than 60 girls report for tryouts. More than 50 played volleyball on a year-round basis for several years.
“I don’t know of another program that has a situation like this,” Barber said. “That’s a lot of talent. That’s really the key to our success. When you have eight Catholic middle schools feeding one school, you get a lot of talent.”
Cardinal Gibbons (21-2 last year) is one of three non-boarding parochial schools in the NCHSAA. The Crusaders entered the N.C. High School Athletic Association in 2005 and won the NCHSAA 2A championship that year.
The title was the first of seven that the Crusaders have won in eight years. Counting their seasons in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association, the Crusaders have been in the state finals 15 consecutive years and have won 13 state titles.
They have won 35 of their 36 matches in the NCHSAA playoffs, losing in five games to West Henderson in the 2008 2A finals.
“I know a lot of girls who played in the 2008 finals and they still say it was one of the most disappointing days of their lives,” Barber said. “They are girls who went on in college and played in some big games. But they still remember that loss.”
The lone finals loss has become one of several motivating factors for Gibbons. No other senior class wants to be the group that fails to win the title.
“Sometimes I read that another teams wants to win more than we do,” Barber said. “But every year, we have a new group of seniors who are incredibly hungry to win. They have never won a title as seniors. Every year you have new seniors and new freshmen.
“There is just as much hype, just as much excitement. Sometimes my job is to try to keep everyone from going too crazy. Complacency is not a problem.”
The Crusaders graduated much of their size last year, but they returns eight players who were a part of the club’s nucleus. The team graduated only four of its 16 varsity players.
Senior setters Erin Quinn and Cheyenne Wood lead the veterans along with 6-foot sophomore Briley Brind’Amour, the daughter of former Carolina Hurricanes player Ron Brind’Amour. Briley played on the varsity team last year as a freshman and made major contributions, including 15 kills in an NCHSAA championship win over China Grove Carson High. Senior libero Bianca Garner had 13 digs in the finals.
Senior Amy Robertson will provide veteran leadership. Sophomores Julianne Peters and Mia Fradenburg and junior Meghan Wilkinson also are back.
There appears to be no end in sight for Gibbons’ dominance. Barber said the freshman class may be the strongest he has seen.
Teams to watch
Leesville Road: The Pride went 27-1 last year, dropping just three sets during the entire regular season. Leesville’s only loss came in the 4A title game. Leesville returns seniors Sam Brown, an outside hitter committed to North Carolina A&T, Julian Rube, Marteen Hill, Laura Stammen and 6-foot-1 Sarah Kelly. Setter Meredith Ball has joined the Pride after helping Pennfield (N.Y.) High to a state championship.
Wakefield: The Wolverines graduated three players from last year’s 20-5 team that lost to Leesville three times, including in the fourth round of the 4A playoffs. Senior 6-footer Darian Mack, a Kentucky recruit, had 185 kills, 90 blocks and 66 aces to earn a spot on the N&O All-Metro team. Also among four returning starters is Marquette setter commit Gabrielle Benda (758 assists) and senior Jordan Glass (140 kills). Cincinnati recruit Maya Muldrow posted 170 kills, 126 blocks and 300 digs at Enloe last season. Junior Amaya Rousseau (150 kills) is back as well
Chapel Hill: The Tigers went 24-6 and bring back seniors Catherine Romaine (157 kills, 80 blocks), Madison Gunning (214 digs) and 6-foot N&O All-Metro selection Perry Ramsey (401 kills, 265 digs, 67 aces), an N.C. State recruit. Sophomore Katherine Esterley is a 6-foot-1 middle blocker. Senior Madison Gunning handles libero. Coach Sherry Norris leads the NCHSAA with more than 700 victories and has lost just 21 matches in the past four years, 13 to Cardinal Gibbons. The Tigers graduated eight seniors in 2012.
Green Hope: The Falcons were 19-5 in 2012 and bring back senior setter Caroline Neideffer (792 assists, 67 aces), an Appalachian State recruit, and junior hitter Margot Ruffieux (259 kills). Coach Karl Redelfs is 60-9 in three seasons. Sophomore middle blocker Allison O’Connor could be a factor.
Apex: The Cougars won the Tri-9, now called the Southwest Wake Athletic 4A, going 18-5. Junior setter Ally Beckman (436 assists, 124 digs) is committed to Georgia Tech. Juniors Anna Patrick (41 blocks) and Chasey Gelston (198 assists) and senior Bri Belicic (240 kills, 196 digs) also return.
St. David’s: The Warriors (28-1) claimed the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A championship for the second year in a row. The Warriors have 2A player of the year senior Katie Dickens, all-state selection Caroline Talton, senior Madison Call and junior Maddie Dickens.
Garner: Four-year starters Courtney Weathersbee, Kelsey Bryan and Ka’asha Jefferies lead a senior-laden team that has won 51 straight Greater Neuse 4A Conference games.
Riverside: The Pirates were 19-5 and bring back Georgetown recruit Casey Speer (321 digs), senior Victoria Pearce (236 digs, 58 aces), junior Mone’ Jones (132 kills, 83 blocks), senior Zariya Thomas and sophomore Rachel Kallianos.
Jordan: The reigning PAC-6 Conference champions graduated six players from last year’s 26-7 team. Among the vets are UNC Asheville libero recruit Kristen Clay and senior all-conference selection Margaret Gunn.
South Granville: The NCHSAA 2A runner-ups went 23-6 and return junior Summer Williamson (481 assists), senior Cayce Bell (136 digs) and Casey Ellington (160 kills, 57 kills).
Holly Springs: The Hawks return four starters from a 15-6 team, including juniors Jaclyn Brewington (206 kills, 195 digs) and Mackenzie Reaves (110 kills, 226 assists) and senior middle blocker Kaelyn Dyson (160 kills, 157 blocks).
Orange: The Panthers will rely upon Kentcie Robbins, Julia Treis, Hailey Parker and Tara Weller.
Ones to watch
Maddie Plumlee, St. Mary’s, Sr.: The Notre Dame recruit recorded 374 kills and 345 digs, earning a spot on the N&O All-Metro team and NCISAA all-state team.
Daria Robinson, Hillside, Sr.: The Hornets’ 6-foot-1 middle blocker has committed to Delaware.
Tara Dotzauer, Millbrook, Sr.: Navy recruit won the team’s outstanding offense award for the 15-11 Wildcats. Setter Stephanie Stieber is a three-year letter winner and earned MVP in 2012.
Hannah Blaylock, Person, Sr.: One of seven returning players for the 16-5 Rockets.
Kirsten Bost, West Johnston, Sr.: Outside hitter is one of two returning starters from 23-7 club.
Annie Carter, East Chapel Hill, Jr.: 6-foot-1 outside hitter has power.
Lexi Consiglio, Corinth Holders, Sr.: The libero is one of five returning players from a 20-7 club that advanced to the third round of the 2A playoffs. Corinth Holders is 3A this season.
Abby Findley, Fuquay-Varina, Sr.: Findley is a two-time all-conference pick and is committed to Campbell. She and classmates Saraya Klink and Alex Barnett are among four returning starters from a 13-9 club. The Bengals have three seniors, seven juniors, three sophomores and a freshman on the varsity team.
Bailey Freeman, Cedar Ridge, Sr.: One of nine returning Red Wolves (24-9) from a team that reached the fourth round of the 2A playoffs. Junior Cass Michal and sophomore Asha Barnes also are back.
Barbara Godwin, Triton, Sr.: Returning along with classmates Ashley Gaines and Cassidy Hayes to a Hawks program that has won 12 straight conference championships and went 27-3 last year.
Kylie Grandy, Wake Forest, Jr.: 5-foot-11 outside hitter.
Adria Johnson, Cary Christian, Jr.: Was NCISAA 2A all-state for the 21-6 Knights.
Britni Johnson, North Raleigh Christian, Sr.: Mount Olive recruit helped the Knights to a 19-10 record.
Rachel Kinsey, Athens Drive, Sr.: Two-time all-conference selection for the Jaguars.
Katie McCullough, Middle Creek, Jr.: Posted 220 kills and 63 aces for the Mustangs.
Hailey Brooke McFadden, Wake Christian, Jr.: 5-foot-6 Wake Forest commitment posted 237 kills and 74 aces for the Bulldogs.
Alexis Massengill, South Johnston, Sr.: Outside hitter was all-conference in 2012.
Ashley Muench, Orange, Sr.: One of seven players returning to the 15-7 Panthers.
Joanna Powers, Raleigh Charter, Sr.: Was a conference player of the year and led the Phoenix (22-8) to the 1A state title match.
Mimi Patterson, Durham Academy, Sr.: Recorded 248 digs, 134 blocks and 299 kills for the 21-6 Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Conference 3A champs. Was named NCISAA all-state.
Tori Paul, Princeton, Sr.: One of nine returners that helped lead the Bulldogs to the 1A East final.
Marie Samek, Carrboro, Sr.: Returns for the Jaguars, who graduated just one player from last year’s team.
Kati Smith, Broughton, So.: 5-8 setter is expected to lead the Caps.
Moriah Smith, Cary Academy, Sr.: Outside hitter has committed to The Citadel.
Emily Stanley, Lee County, Jr.: Was an all-conference pick along with senior teammate Chandler Patterson. The Yellow Jackets move from 4A to 3A this year.
Kimmy Thompson, Sanderson, Sr.: Led the 14-7 Spartans in kills (180) and digs (129).