Cary volleyball coach Philip Goodloe felt lonely on the Imps' depleted bench through four games of a back-and-forth non-conference match with Broughton at the Caps' Holliday Gym.
Then he was very much a solitary figure, seated alone, early in the decisive fifth game when he called a timeout with his team trailing 9-3 only to learn his team didn't want him in the huddle.
"They pushed me away and said, 'Players only,' " said Goodloe, referring to team captains Leah Blackley and Rachel Weisz.
But this wasn't a revolt. This was Blackley and Weisz asserting their leadership roles in match they felt the Imps' should have put away before the fifth game.
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"They figured it out and got it each other fired up," Goodloe said. "They pushed me away and said to take a seat. The captains took over, which is nice. Sometimes it works."
Cary rebounded with four straight points on serves by Blackley, including one ace. The Imps went on to win the fifth game to wrap up a 25-20, 17-25, 25-17, 26-28, 19-17 victory. Cary was led by 15 kills from Raechel Brooks and 12 from Blackley.
"I thought we needed to come together as a team and focus on what we needed to do to win," Weisz said. "It was back and forth and I said we needed to play smart. We were playing hard, but we needed to think about what we had to do to win by playing smart."
Cary improved to 3-2 with the victory, while Broughton's rebuilding program under first-year coach Traci Smith dropped to 3-5.
"My hat is off to their new coach," Goodloe said. "Last year Broughton came to our place and we destroyed them. Their coach is doing a good job."
Broughton, with a young roster, hopes to build the confidence and leadership that Cary displayed. The future is promising since two of the Caps' key players were freshmen Kati Smith and Tiana Butler among four freshmen that saw playing time.
"We need to develop confidence after not having success last year and I think we're getting that turned around," Smith said. "The other thing we need to do is develop an attack. The defense was fairly strong, but the attack was weak. We're focused on techniques and power."
Cary only carries 10 players on its varsity roster, but the Imps were down to eight players at Broughton. Two players were attending a concert said Goodloe, shaking his head in disappointment. With only two subustitutes, he was hoping to put Broughton away quickly to avoid facing fatigue in a fifth game.
His worst fears were coming true as Broughton's Garrett Hedgepeth served nine straight points for the 9-3 lead before Cary's momentum-turning timeout.
In the fifth game played to 15, Blackley started a streak of three straight points that ended the game with a kill. Two more points gave Cary the two-point margin needed to win on the hallowed hardwood of basketball Hall-of-Famer Pete Maravich's alma mater.
With the 2-hour, 20-minute match clinched, Cary's exhausted players formed a team huddle. This time Goodloe was welcome, but the final word again came from the players.
"Let's go home," one of them said still gasping for air.