For most high school teams, winning a state championship is a once in a lifetime experience. For Suzie Pignetti and her Charlotte Latin volleyball team, winning it all has become an annual tradition.
Pignetti and the Hawks will go for their eighth straight NCISAA 3A state title this year after compiling a 187-8 record over the last seven seasons.
"Every year is a new challenge with a new team to work with," said Pignetti, who has coached 11 years at Latin, but who also has 13 state titles overall including six with Charlotte Country Day. "Stay on top and repeating as state champions is not always easy to do. There is a lot of pressure that comes with it, good and bad. But there is a lot pride handed down to each team and a lot pride carrying on the legacy."
The 2011 version of Charlotte Latin volleyball is the favorite, at least on paper, to win it all again.
Junior all-state outside hitter Eve Davis headlines a veteran Hawk team that went 31-3 in 2010. Davis had 455 kills as a sophomore, including 30 kills in the state championship match.
"Any coach would love to have an Eve Davis," Pignetti said. "We always thought she had the power and potential to be a great player. Last year, she really became more consistent and became that player we thought she would be."
Fellow all-state junior Emma Price also returns to the Hawk lineup. Price will move from outside/opposite hitter to setter, attempting to fill the shoes of talented Delaney Dalton. Price has extensive club experience as a setter and also can draw on the experience of her older sister, Liza, who was once a star setter for Latin.
Sophmore Kellie Williams, a member of the U15 Carolina Juniors travel team, also will figure in heavily in the Latin offense, playing opposite of Davis on the outside.
The Hawks will get help from senior quartet Shema'n Fullwood, Amma Okwara, Madison Pulliam and Emily Usher and junior Ashley Finke, who will all provide depth and experience.
"We have a lot of proven talent that we can lean on, on this team," said Pignetti. "But we also have a lot of holes to fill. How good we can be will be determined by who steps up and fills the holes."
While it's hard to put into perspective exactly what Pignetti and Latin have accomplished in the last decade, the coach and her players try to enjoy the journey while it lasts, year by year.
"We try to focus on each journey, each year, each process of winning a conference and state title," Pignetti said. "Every group of girls wants to live up to what the players ahead of them have done."
Area players to watch
Casey Rieger, Providence: SW4A Player of the Year is back to improve Panthers' state runner-up finish.
Megan Edwards, Providence: First-team All-Observer selection had 235 kills and 67 aces in 2010. Mireya Braxton, Providence: Middle blocker's athletic and jumping ability led to 40 blocks.
Emily Franklin, Providence: 6-foot-1 blocking machine for Panthers.
Caitlin Watkins, Ardrey Kell: Knights' top killer (265 last year) should be one of Charlotte's best again.
Emma Vail, Ardrey Kell: Senior will patrol the middle of the court for talented Knights' team.
Sarah Wyczawski, Ardrey Kell: Like her sister, Kristin, before her, Sarah is expected to be one of area's best.
Taylor Larsen, Charlotte Catholic: Senior will have opportunity to step into void left by 2010 Observer Player of the Year Kelsey Newman.
Kaitlyn Massey, Charlotte Catholic: Like Larson, junior will need to help step into Cougar spotlight, if Catholic is going to be as strong as usual.
Mattie Newson, Charlotte Country Day: Junior one of Bucs' primary scorers after solid 2010 season (121 kills, 333 digs).
Sara Fairley, South Mecklenburg: All-SW4A standout will need to be even better for Sabres to climb brutal conference ladder.