Getting to the state championship is a yearly ritual for Cardinal Gibbons volleyball and the streak won’t stop this year.
The Crusaders left Lee County with a 3-0 (25-15, 25-14, 25-20) win Tuesday in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East final.
Cardinal Gibbons (26-0) is 42-1 all-time in the NCHSAA volleyball playoffs, only falling in the 2008 title match to West Henderson. This year, the Crusaders have swept every team but one – an 3-1 win against Apex on Sept. 29.
As they go for an NCHSAA-record sixth straight title, the Crusaders will play West Henderson once again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
“They’re a very good, consistent, fun bunch to work with. We talk about going to the state championship on the first day of practice every year and they’ve accomplished that,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Logan Barber said. “Whoever it is (Saturday), we’re going to have to go up there and be aggressive.”
The Yellow Jackets (28-2) didn’t play frantic as some of the Crusaders’ Wake County opponents do.
“We knew we had nothing to lose. They had everything to lose. They’ve won it five years in a row, they’re the big, bad private school. They have good players, but we were ready to play against them,” Lee County senior Emily Stanley said.
Still, the Crusaders were able to put away the Yellow Jackets with big runs. After leading 11-8 in Game 1, they went on an 8-0 run.
In Game 2, they broke wide a 13-9 contest with another 8-0 run. In Game 3, it was a quick 5-0 run that elevated a 12-11 lead to one with some breathing room.
“We knew it was going to a big crowd, we knew their whole town was coming. So we really, really wanted it and at some point we just had to take it,” junior Tori Dozier said. “If we have that focus and we have that determination and that humbleness then we’ll definitely bring home the title.”
Junior Briley Brind’Amour had a game-high 14 kills and classmate Dozier had 20 assists.
Lee County was going for its first state title appearance since 1978.
“There is just something about this team communicating, talking, working together. There’s not a lot of drama. They had one goal in mind – state championship – and every game they kept working toward it,” said longtime Lee County coach Cindy Kelly.
Kelly’s program endured some tough final years in 4A before those struggles paid off in its second year of 3A. Seniors, like Stanley (10 kills) saw the turnaround come full circle.
“We had an awesome season,” Stanley said. “We had a bunch of sophomores this year that helped us out. We had a team that wanted to play hard and win everything and didn’t let a couple of bad sets or bad passes drop us down.”