RALEIGH — Through the meat of its conference schedule, Cardinal Gibbons’ volleyball team might not always get chances to sharpen itself against fellow elite programs.
When the opportunity arose on Saturday, the undefeated Crusaders, No. 1 in the News & Observer rankings, downed No. 2 Apex 3-1 in a performance that was at times dominating.
Gibbons won the first set 25-15 and the second 25-4.
“I think we saw that they have the real ability to follow a gameplan when they need to, and they showed they can go out there and take a team apart,” Gibbons coach Logan Barber said.
Apex (14-2), which has already clinched the Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference title, bounced off the mat to take game three 25-21, making it only the second game Gibbons had dropped all year.
The Crusaders (18-0), winners of seven state N.C. High School Athletic Association championships in the last eight years, finished off the match with a 25-21 win in game four.
Sophomore outside hitter Briley Brind’Amour was stellar for the Crusaders, and she didn’t have to be in for a full set to make her impact felt.
Unlike last year, Gibbons can sub out Brind’Amour when she moves to the back line. This year’s team is deep with defensive players, and it allows her to be rested when she enters the game to play at the net.
“We have great defense, and we want to use all the back row players. That helps the team win and us play better,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s really different when you go on the court with energy from the bench.”
There were three matches on the day, the other two involving reigning 4A East champion Leesville Road, which lost 3-1 to Apex and 3-0 to Cardinal Gibbons.
The Crusaders, which can clinch the Big Eight 3A Conference title this week, are still a young team. They have mostly sophomores and only four seniors – including important setters Cheyenne Wood and Erin Quinn.
As a result, this year’s team seems to enjoy the ride to what they hope is another state title. In previous seasons, sometimes the team was so senior-laden and talented that it took a business-like approach to winning.
“These girls feel like they should win, but it’s still exciting when it happens,” Barber said. “Even if it’s just getting the newer kids in the mix so they feel like ‘this is the first time I am contributing to Cardinal Gibbons’ makes a big deal, and they’re really excited about all of it.”
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps