RALEIGH For the four seniors on Cardinal Gibbons’ volleyball team, the feeling never gets old.
The Crusaders had been crowned state champions each year of their high school careers, but this particular team was still on the side of history.
Cardinal Gibbons swept Jesse Carson, 25-19, 25-13, 26-24, Saturday to win the program’s fifth consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A volleyball title, a state record.
This year’s team was also the first from Gibbons to go undefeated while winning an NCHSAA title. The Crusaders finished the year 28-0.
“As you go through the process yourself and see all the older girls graduate and the new girls come in, as a senior you have that to look back on,” said senior libero Bianca Gartner. “It’s your last year and you’ve done it again, and that was your one goal all season. It’s just exciting.”
Gibbons won three straight 2A championships from 2005 to 2007, and consecutive N.C. Independent School volleyball titles from 1998 to 2003.
Since joining the NCHSAA, Gibbons has gone 37-1 in playoff competition, with the one loss coming in the 2008 title match.
That type of success brings pressure, said senior setter Erin Quinn.
“We have a legacy to hold up because people kind of expect us to get here,” she said. “Winning is not just for that year. It’s for all of the people who did it before you.”
Cardinal Gibbons swept Carson a year ago in the finals. This year’s Crusaders team was a bit different, but still very strong.
“It’s a little bit different style this year from last year with it kind of being a true team effort in my opinion, and not really having any star player atmosphere that we had last year with Haleigh Nelson and before that with Madison Bugg,” Barber said. “Everybody just committed to doing their job and wanting to be part of a successful year.”
The Crusaders had a balanced attack, led by setter Cheyenne Wood, who was named championship MVP. Senior Amy Robertson added 10 kills.
Jesse Carson brought a large, vocal crowd with it from China Grove. The Cougars were also undefeated heading into the championship match at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Cardinal Gibbons opened the match in a 2-7 hole, and battled back to tie the first set at 12 before taking the lead and never letting up.
The Crusaders got down early in the second match, as well, but battled back to take a 2-0 lead.
The team practices playing from behind, Quinn said, so though the Crusaders rarely find themselves in a deficit, they have faith in their team’s ability to rebound.
When Carson went on an 8-1 run to stay alive in the third set, it was sophomore Briley Brind’Amour who was there to end it with one of her six kills.
The contribution and promise of young players are what keep the Crusaders reign strong, Barber said.
“(Each year) we come in the first day and figure out how we’re going to win a state championship this year. ... It’s great to know that there are people ready to step up next year, and do the same kind of thing,” he said.