Nothing was certain when Melanie Bryant and her Cary Academy volleyball team entered the Husky Invitational Friday at Heritage High School.
The Chargers were the two-time defending champions of the now three-year-old tournament, but with a young team, Bryant wanted to see how the players would mesh.
“I don’t know really what my expectations were this year,” Bryant said. “It’s the beginning of the season and we only have five returning varsity players, so we weren’t sure how the girls would bond together and meld.”
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The Chargers, who finished 23-9 in 2011 and reached the NCISAA 3A semifinals for the fourth straight season, had to come together in a championship match against Jordan Durham Saturday, where they would have to grit out their third consecutive tournament win, eventually topping the Falcons 3-1.
“Every year the teams have gotten tougher,” Bryant said.
The Chargers won the first set 19-25, but had to fight back in the second after falling behind 8-3 early on. Cary rallied to tie the set at nine and carried the game from there, winning 18-25.
Down 2-0 before the third set, Jordan coach Erik Hofheinz told his players to believe in themselves.
“I knew we weren’t playing up to the level we needed to,” Hofheinz said after the match. “Overcoming errors at the high school level is a lot about the mental aspect, so I just wanted them to get it in their heads that they were better than how we were playing.”
The Falcons fought back after trailing early, setting up a close third set that went to the wire and featured a dozen set points and four match points. Jordan won the set 36-34, forcing a fourth set.
“We could have just rolled over, but to overcome that says a lot,” Hofheinz said.
Jordan carried some of that momentum into the fourth set, leading early, but Cary eventually won the set 25-16 to take the championship match.
“It’s awesome,” said Cary junior Moriah Smith, who earned all-tournament honors. “It was really nerve-wracking. So up-and-down, but exciting.”
Cary did not lose a match during the two-day tournament, which started with best-of-three matches in pool play Friday and concluded with bracket-style best-of-five championship rounds Saturday.
“We just had to calm down and play our game,” said Cary senior Elizabeth Carlton, who was named tournament MVP. “It’s really awesome because this is my last year. I think it showed some of our younger players what we can do. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the season.”
Mickayla Sanders of Cary, Barbara Godwin of Triton, Kati Smith of Broughton, Joanna Powers of Raleigh Charter, Katie Hirsch of Jordan, and Sydney Hinds of Heritage were also named to the all-tournament team.
In other Saturday matches, Triton bested New Bern in a five-set thriller for third place, and Raleigh Charter beat Broughton in three sets for fifth place.
Tournament host Heritage High also got its first win in the program’s short history .
“I think we got a lot better (over the weekend),” said Heritage coach Branden Green. “We had some competitive fire, which we haven’t had in the past.”
It’ll take some time for the young program to grow, but the Huskies’ 3-1 win over Pamlico for seventh place was a good start, he said.
“You learn a lot by losing, but it’s always good to win,” he said. “Winning gives you confidence. It lets the girls see we’re improving, so I’m excited for them, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”