It isn’t uncommon for championship teams to struggle with the reality of heightened expectations the year following a state title.
But the North Raleigh Christian Academy volleyball team attacked the 2016 season with the same focus and drive it had during 2015 and was rewarded for that as it defeated High Point Christian Academy in the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association 3A championship, winning 3-0 in straight sets (25-10, 25-20, 25-18) to earn a second consecutive state title.
The Knights, who finished the season with a 27-1 record, played just like they had all season on Saturday, turning in a well-balanced and complete performance. Coach Chris Murray said her team played to its full potential. That much was evident. NRCA was fundamentally sound, and played an aggressive, but equally measured style of volleyball.
“They played amazing. Our goal was to do us to the best of our ability, and that’s what they did,” Murray said of the Knights. “They went out there, and left their hearts after every point on the court.”
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The win capped of what was a dominant campaign for NRCA. Of their 27 victories, 23 came in straight sets, including each of the three playoff matches they played in.
Still, the year would have been incomplete without a strong showing against HPCA, but the Knights made sure they would be ending the season on a high note.
NRCA’s depth, and ability to not have to rely on one single player made it a tough opponent for HPCA, which never could enjoy any sustained success outside of the beginning of the second set.
Powered by strong play from middle hitters Ali Thanhauser and Casey Justus, and good passing from the duo of setters Faith Murray and Amaya Williams, NRCA started the day with a dominant performance in the opening game.
“They did such a great job of putting the ball down in the middle,” Murray said of Faith Murray and Williams.
In the second set, HPCA had a chance to even the match, but NRCA ended the frame on a 10-5 run to take a crucial 2-0 advantage.
Not wasting any time to close the deal, NRCA jumped out to a 11-4 advantage in the third set, and never looked back. When the final point was earned, the Knights celebrated wildly, but there were also many bittersweet tears shed.
“I will never, ever forget this team my entire life,” said Thanhuaser, one of the four NRCA seniors. “We have such a connection, and we constantly loved each other. We were like a big family that could come together and have a good time. That’s why we played so well on the court.”
Senior libero Kincey Smith, a Duke commit, said she and her teammates knew a repeat of last season’s championship wouldn’t come easy, but that it was definitely possible.
“We knew we had the potential and skill on our team, so we just went into each practice focused and ready to play,” Smith said.