The only teams that could beat Chapel Hill’s volleyball team this season were championship-caliber. That’s one way of looking at the Tigers’ bounce-back season that ended with a 3-0 loss to nationally-ranked Cox Mill High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A championship on Saturday.
The Tigers, rich in volleyball tradition, were making their first title appearance since 2003. They fell 25-15, 25-15, 25-19 to the Chargers out of Concord, ranked eighth in the MaxPreps national rankings and No. 33 by PrepVolleyball.com.
Aside from a surprise sweep at the hands of Cedar Ridge, Chapel Hill (24-6) suffered losses to either 2A champ Carrboro (three times), 4A title participant Green Hope and 3A champ Cox Mill (34-0).
“We had quite a tough road,” first-year coach Ross Fields said. “We fought hard everywhere we went, and we’ve got a great team.”
Cox Mill certainly looked the part as the best in the state regardless of classification. Match MVP Taylor Rowland had 22 kills, and teammate Courtney Weber had 32 assists.
But the Tigers showed a lot of fight. After having trouble in the first two sets, falling by identical 25-15 scores, Chapel Hill trailed just 14-12 halfway through the third set thanks to gritty play by seniors Shea Golden and Katie Huge.
The Tigers will lose Huge (13 assists), Golden (six kills) and Kyra Crider from its lineup as well as classmates Marin Wolf and Emma Kalish.
“I like how close our team has gotten this season,” Wolf said. “We’re so close, even when we’re not on the court. ... I’m really sad not only that we lost, but this is my last time getting to play with these people.”
Chapel Hill went 13-11 and 9-13 in the previous two seasons before Fields took over this year. This year’s seniors were freshmen when they went to the 3A East final, and this year they took it a step farther.
“We’re happy. We’re a little disappointed, obviously, but we’re happy overall with how we’ve spent the last three months together,” Fields said.
The future is bright with freshmen Courtney Zwikker and Kaya Merkler (seven kills) on the front row.
“We have a relatively young team – we have five freshmen on the varsity and a lot of sophomores. I think my favorite part of this season is knowing that when we leave it’ll be put into good hands,” Crider “We have amazing talent and I know that when we leave they’re going to carry that talent to the state championship again next year.”