The day three newcomers – Alexis Engelbrecht and Kayla and Sydney Dowler – showed up for practice at Green Hope changed the Falcons’ volleyball program. But what happened afterward was far more important.
Engelbrecht, a freshman from Georgia, and the Dowler sisters, from Wisconsin, were welcomed with open arms by the returning Falcons players. The friendship was genuine and the chemistry was real.
And the results have been championship-caliber.
Green Hope took home its first N.C. High School Athletic Association volleyball championship on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum, defeating Reagan High 3-1 (18-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-17) for the 4A title.
“Our team was very welcoming. They made us feel like we were just at home like it was any other person from our old home,” Sydney Dowler said.
Kayla Dowler added: “From the first open gym everyone came up to us and introduced themselves and was very welcoming. I made some of my best friends right away on the first day.”
That chemistry helped the Falcons shake off their mistakes and pick each other up after dropping the first set in the title match.
“It’s unlike an environment I’ve ever been in,” Engelbrecht said. “Everyone was just so loving, and I guess it’s because we all knew we were going to play for each other. And (coach Karl Redelfs) mentioned states in the first practice. It’s like ‘Well, guess we’ve got to play together to get to states.’ ”
Redelfs was proved correct in thinking this year’s team could aim that high despite starting two freshmen, two juniors, two sophomores and no seniors. His team accepted the challenge of becoming the first team in school history to win it all.
“We looked up there and there’s not a volleyball banner on that wall, and we said we want to put a banner on that wall,” Sydney Dowler said.
Green Hope (29-1) will get that chance thanks to its balance. Title MVP Sydney Dowler, a freshman, kept the offense hitting on all cylinders. She finished with 32 assists and five kills.
Kayla Dowler (12 kills, 15 digs), a sophomore, came up big in the title match as did Engelbrecht (seven kills, five blocks) and junior Amy Zhang (nine kills). Erin McIndoe, a sophomore, had 16 digs.
The Falcons lose just three seniors off this year’s squad – Chloe Ruffieux, Rachel Bevan and Maureen Whittelsey. If it’s too early to talk about next year, the Falcons don’t mind.
Redelfs couldn’t help but playfully ask his players about it in the postgame press conference: “So next year, we’ll do it again?”