Ardrey Kell volleyball coach Zoe Bell said the groundwork for the Knights’ dominating 2012 season was set last year, when a second-round playoff loss derailed a season of high expectations.
Plus, the Knights watched as rival Providence celebrated its fifth state title. Bell said her team vowed at that moment this year would be different.
And it was.
The Knights (31-1) defeated Providence three times, including once in the playoffs. They also avenged their only loss, to Hough, with a 3-0 win in the state semifinals before knocking off previously unbeaten Raleigh Leesville Road, 3-0, to win the Class 4A state championship, the Knight’s first volleyball crown.
Bell said the season, in which the Knights won 95 of the 103 games they played, was rewarding, but as the playoffs progressed, her team felt more pressure to win the school’s first state volleyball championship. When it was over, Bell and the Knights could finally exhale.
“They were relieved,” Bell said. “It’s like a 500-pound weight was lifted off them. It’s great to go through the season with so many expectations and to finally cap it off, but there’s a lot of pressure, too. It was the goal to win it, and we wanted it, but it’s a relief it’s over.
“It was most rewarding because it was a total team effort. There is not one piece of our team that you could have taken away, everyone played a part and had a role on the team, which was great since they all had a job to do.”
The Knights were led by N.C. State commit Rachel Eppley, who was named MVP after recording eight kills and 25 digs in the state championship game. Four other Knights – seniors Caitlin Watkins and Madison Wauchope, and juniors Marshae Bradbury and Serena Jackson – tallied more than 100 kills on the year. Senior Sarah Wyczawski and junior Lily Duggan each recorded more than 100 digs.
The roster also included Kendra Murphy, Chloe Wachtel, Claire Storey, Tori Hawkins, Madison Steed, Hayley Western, Abby Smith, Elizabeth Kaeser, Lexi Steed and Erin Whalen.
“I was mostly happy for the girls,” Bell said. “That’s the best part of my job. It was very emotional for me because I’ve gotten to see how hard they all worked and how much better they all have gotten. But really I just try to inspire them. The girls are the reason that I do it. I just really like to see them improve, and they did that all season long until the end.”