Proudly sporting a headband with the word ‘hitter’ emblazoned across the front, Gray’s Creek’s Shilah Haumann doesn’t hide her high-powered intentions when she steps on to the volleyball court.
Not that it would do any good. Haumann and her Bears’ teammates come equipped with a pair of attention-getting calling cards – an undefeated record along with a No. 1 seed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A volleyball playoffs.
Gray’s Creek continued its storybook season Thursday at home as Haumann (15) and Kaytlin Elkins (18) combined for 33 kills and the Bears held off stubborn No. 8 seed Corinth Holders, 24-26, 25-14, 25-18, 25-23, in the second round.
The Bears, fueled by a strong group of seven senior veterans – including Haumann and Elkins – improved to 23-0 heading into Saturday’s third-round home showdown versus Union Pines, a team Gray’s Creek topped twice during regular season action.
“We just want this so badly,” Haumann said. “When you aren’t a senior, you can always say you have next year. We can’t say that with this team. This is do-or-die for us.”
Corinth Holders (14-8) provided a stiff challenge to the Bears, and even squeaked out a victory in the first set after trailing most of the way. The Pirates overcame two set points and eventually rallied to take the set behind three consecutive service points from Julie Weisenberg.
But a poised Gray’s Creek club simply regrouped and took the first 10 points of the second set off Emily Bresee’s serve. Bresee notched two aces during the stretch, while Haumann, a commanding presence in the middle, sent down four clutch kills.
The Bears roared through victories in the second and third sets, but the Pirates made things interesting in the finale. Corinth Holders led 23-21 but saw Gray’s Creek once again display its veteran savvy by racking up the closing four points, the last of which came off a Haumann block.
“I’m so proud of my team,” said Corinth Holders coach Charles Riley. “We caught a nice rhythm late in the season and we hung in (Thursday) against a really good team that kept putting pressure on us. I just hate that it was a second-round game because it felt like a fourth-round game to me. I never felt like we were out of it.”
All along, Riley felt like his program was one season away from making a potential deep postseason surge. The Pirates only had four seniors and featured a slew of underclassmen who made impacts this fall, though senior team leader Jamie Turner will be missed.
Turner, who boasts a solid all-around game, closed her career with 10 kills. She will now hand off the hitting torch to the likes of Weisenberg (five), Grace Pittman (seven) and Ali Blanco (six), who combined for 18 kills during Thursday’s finale.
“We had seven juniors this year, and they gained some valuable experience in this match,” Riley said. “It was back-and-forth and fun to be a part of.”
Said Weisenberg, who is a junior: “We learned a lot. We were put in situations that we can really learn from. We fought hard. We started off slowly but were able to get some confidence.”
While Corinth Holders will look to the 2017 campaign, Gray’s Creek reached the third round for the second time in the past three seasons under coach Crystal Waddell.
Waddell arrived at Gray’s Creek four years ago, the same time as the Bears’ current senior class.
“We have had some chances (in the playoffs) in the past but came up short,” Elkins said. “This year, we knew we had to do it because we are seniors. When we first came in, it was a learning experience for all of us. We were coming in as ninth-graders from middle school and didn’t know what to expect. Coach (Waddell) was coming in here for the first time, and she didn’t know what to expect. We just tried to come together and do our best.”
Two years later, Haumann transferred to Gray’s Creek from a private school, and all the pieces were in place for the Bears to develop into a powerhouse.
Except for one.
Haumann had always worn a headband during competition, but she decided to begin donning her now-famous ‘hitter’ design a pair of seasons ago. Haumann has expressed her chief spike objective on her forehead ever since – expect when match officials rule otherwise.
“We love it,” Elkins said of Haumann’s headband. “The only problem is that sometimes the referees make her take it off because they said the letters are too big.”
Big letters, big expectations, big talent and a big, talented senior class – those are the intangibles that have fueled Gray’s Creek’s roll through the 2016 season.
“As a team, we just have a great connection,” Haumann said. “We have a lot of chemistry. All year long, we talked about keeping our (unbeaten) streak alive. Now we have a new streak – a 2-0 streak. We want to win a state championship so badly.”