Lake Norman & Mooresville

SouthLake brings state volleyball crown home

SouthLake Christian's volleyball team gave their school its first NCISAA state title, defeating Asheville Christian to bring home the 2A championship trophy.

Senior setter Meghan Bentley said winning a state title was an incredible experience.

"As soon as Kayla (Summer) got the last point, we all just looked at each other and everyone surrounded us. It was amazing," she said., adding that the accomplishment still hasn't hit her. "It's surreal."

The Eagles defeated the No. 1-seeded Lions 3-1. The game was payback for SouthLake, as they had fallen to Asheville Christian in straight sets in early October.

"They're our rival team, we knew we had to beat them," said Bentley.

Junior Hannah Croom explained that the Eagles (25-5, 12-1 in the Metrolina Athletic Conference) used that loss - and all others - as motivation to keep improving.

"Each loss that we had lit a fire in us," she said.

SouthLake coach Rachel Noreika said that capping off the season with a state title was a good payoff for the hard work her players put into this season and in the offseason, when girls would go to the school for open gym even as many of them were playing club volleyball.

"It was an affirmation that we're doing the right thing," said Noreika. "I was very happy it came this year and for this group of girls."

SouthLake Christian had fallen short of a state championship the last few seasons, losing in the state semifinals the past three years.

Last season, with an experienced group of seniors, led by Catherine Wolter and Carly Iannarino, the 22-4 Eagles were the favorites to take the title but were not able to get to the finals.

Noreika said this year's team went into the playoffs as somewhat of an underdog, being the No. 3 seed in the 16-team tournament, which was an experience she enjoyed.

"I was excited for that chance - to prove to everybody the skill and the talent that we have," said the fifth-year Eagles coach.

Noreika said it felt to good to finally watch her team hoist a state championship trophy.

"I knew it was going to come at some point," she said. "We kept working knowing that it would come eventually. We persevered."

Croom added that what has separated this team is how well players complement each other on the court.

"Each person brought something different to the team - not everyone's an amazing outside hitter like Katie (Schoenrock) or a great server and passer like Olivia (Loeffler), but everyone has a specific thing that they're good at that makes us a really good team."

Schoenrock and Summer - both juniors - were key pieces in the Eagles' success and were named to the all-state team. Schoenrock led SouthLake in kills and aces, while Summer recorded the most blocks and digs among her teammates.

Schoenrock, Summer and Bentley, who led the team in assists, earned all-conference honors.

The Eagles will only lose two seniors to graduation - Bentley and fellow team captain Christina Ford. The team hopes that their returning experience will help them carry their state title momentum over to 2011.

But losing Bentley, the team's only setter, will be a big hit for the team.

"If we have a good setter, I think we can accomplish the same goals we did this year," said Summer.

But for now the team will continue to celebrate its championship.

For the seniors, they will always remember their last game in an Eagles' uniform.

"This was the best way to end our volleyball career," said Ford.

Bentley quickly agreed.

"Our last game ever we won the state championship and no one can ever change that."