South Charlotte

This season’s finest: Volleyball teams Serve for the Cure for breast cancer

Serve for the Cure founder and former Charlotte Latin volleyball coach, Suzie Pignetti and her husband, Pete.
Serve for the Cure founder and former Charlotte Latin volleyball coach, Suzie Pignetti and her husband, Pete. Courtesy of Alherd and Ellen Kazura

Charlotte Latin’s “Serve for the Cure” Volleyball Tournament: Suzie Pignetti was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 1997, and had a mastectomy surgery and rigorous, chemotherapy regimen.

Today, Pignetti, 72, is a breast cancer survivor of more than 20 years.

The disease changed her life and inspired her to help other survivors, and to give back in the constant search for the cure to breast cancer.

While Pignetti was a legendary volleyball coach at Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Country Day and Butler on the court – amassing 745 career wins, including 29 conference championships and 15 state championships (including nine, state championships in a row at Charlotte Latin 2004-2012) in her 35-year tenure – she’s even more proud of the opportunities volleyball has provided her off the court.

On Sept. 23, 20 volleyball teams from 12 schools will compete in the 16th Annual Serve for the Cure Volleyball Tournament at Charlotte Latin.

To date, the tournament has raised $433,350 for cancer research, including $39,000 last year during the one-day event.

The tournament “started out from the passion I had to see if we could use our sport (volleyball) to help raise money for awareness and money to help find a cure for breast cancer,” said Pignetti. “I remember the first year (2002) we had six schools and raised $5,000 and I thought that was going to be hard to top.

“But Serve for the Cure has grown every year and it just seems to keep getting better and better. It’s not just a Charlotte Latin event anymore, it’s really a (greater) Charlotte community event now.”

The 12 teams participating include traditional, Charlotte-area powers such as Ardrey Kell, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Country Day, Community School of Davidson, Covenant Day, Gaston Day, Providence Day, Providence and Weddington.

The field also includes Nation Ford (S.C.), and for the first time, Cape Fear Academy, now coached by former Charlotte Latin volleyball coach Ellen Kazura.

Kazura was not only mentored as a volleyball coach by Pignetti, but also inspired to be a part of this tournament now and in the past by her good friend.

“Anybody who has been a part of the Charlotte Latin volleyball program knows about the Serve for the Cure, and that it’s a big deal for the whole entire program, from middle school to varsity,” said Kazura, Charlotte Latin head volleyball coach for two years (2014, 2015), after six years as an assistant to Pignetti and one year under Zoe Bell

The 12 schools that will play in the Serve for the Cure event will be competing to see who can raise the most money, something all the girls who play take pride in, according to Kazura.

Charlotte Latin, now coached by Gloria Cash, usually wins the top prize for money raised, but Weddington has been close recently and Coach Zoe Bell and her Ardrey Kell team are also always a factor.

The event also benefits from sponsors such as Carolina Juniors Volleyball and the Sports’ Connection to more than 60 other sponsors that support the tournament with money, goods and services, according to Kazura.

The money raised now goes to two beneficiaries, with half going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, and half going to the Teresa Flippo-Morton, MD, Surgical Oncology Fund.

Flippo-Morton was one of the surgeons who operated on Pignetti, and one of the top doctors in Charlotte, treating an estimated 2,300 women with cancer, according to Pignetti. Flippo-Morton, who had pancreatic cancer, died June 7, 2015.

“I think the girls really get it,” Pignetti said. “They want to give back to something bigger than themselves, something bigger than volleyball.”

Kazura hopes to start a similar event in Wilmington soon. “The money we raise is great. But to have 20 different teams from 12 schools working hard and competing for this cause makes us all proud. For the (Charlotte) volleyball community to get together each year and do something like this is rare.”

Claudia Dickey, Charlotte Latin Girls’ Team/U19 U.S. National Soccer Team: The Charlotte Latin all-state senior goalkeeper helped the U19 United States’ Women’s National Team win the CFA International Youth Football Tournament in China.

Dickey was named the tournament Best Goalkeeper, allowing one goal in two games.

Dickey led the U.S. team to 1-0 victory over Japan in their opener on Sept. 10, with six saves, two of which were the “spectacular variety,” according to the

Dickey also got the victory in goal in a 2-1 win over host China on Sept. 12.

The U.S. U19 national team officially won the tournament with 5-0 victory over Iran on Sept. 14.

Dickey, a UNC commit, had led Charlotte Latin to three straight, NCISAA 3A state championships.

Walker Gillespie, Charlotte Country Day Soccer: The Charlotte Country Day senior junior midfielder/forward had a week to remember helping the Bucs (9-0-2) to three, dramatic 1-0 victories.

Gillespie had the game-winning assist to his twin brother, Richard Gillespie, with just four minutes left in overtime, to give the Country Day the victory.

Two days later, he scored the game-winning goal with less than a minute to play to beat Rabun Gap-Nacoochee.

Walker Gillespie had five goals and an assist season.

Jose Duarte, Queens Grant Soccer: The Queens Grant senior goalkeeper had two big games in an eight-day span.

Duarte recorded a career-best 22 saves in a 1-0 victory over Forest Hills on Sept. 7.

He may have been even better in Stallions’ 2-1 overtime victory over Union Academy as he not only had eight saves in goal, but contributed an assist to teammate Mario Portillo.

Duarte found his teammate on a quick service from the goal, allowing Portillo a one touch past the opposing keeper.

Duarte has 60 saves in five games this season.

Hattie Rodriguez and Emma Ellis, Charlotte Catholic Volleyball: The Charlotte Catholic co-captains led the Cougars (10-2) to their seventh straight victory with wins over Sun Valley and Monroe.

Rodriguez, a Davidson College commit who boast a 4.0 grade-point average, had her best game of the week in the 3-2 win over Sun Valley on Sept. 12, with 22 kills and 14 digs.

Meanwhile, Ellis, a Purdue University commit with a 4.14 grade-point average, had 19 kills and 19 digs in the Sun Valley victory.

Rodriguez has 167 kills and 66 digs on the season, while Ellis has recorded 146 kills and 74 aces so far this year.

Braden Nash, Charlotte Country Day Volleyball: The Charlotte Country Day senior libero was all over the court, recording 69 digs in three Bucs’ victories last week.

Nash started her week with 31 digs in a 3-1 victory over Charlotte Latin on Sept. 12.

She also had 20 digs in 3-2 win at Charlotte Christian on Sept. 15.

Nash leads the Bucs (14-2, 3-0 in the CISAA) with 284 digs this season.

Meg Hopkins, Covenant Day Volleyball: The Covenant Day junior setter had 65 more assists to lead the Lions to a perfect 2-0 record last week.

Hopkins had best performance of the week with 38 assists, 10 digs, four kills and two aces in a 3-1 victory over Metrolina Christian on Sept. 14.

Hopkins leads Covenant Day with 362 kills this season and is also second in aces (26) and third in digs (193) and kills (48).

Amber Nee, East Mecklenburg Girls’ Tennis: The East Mecklenburg freshman earned her first singles’ and doubles’ victories of her Eagle career to help her team to their first win of the season, 5-4 over Butler on Sept. 12.

Nee, playing No. 3 (singles) beat Butler’s Ayahna Vital, 6-4, 6-2 in singles, before teaming with East Meck’s Upasana Lama to win in doubles’ play 10-5.

Sylvia Mihailescu, Providence Girls’ Tennis: The Providence helped keep the Panthers on top of the SoMeck7 conference standings, winning two matches in the 5-4 victory over rival, Ardrey Kell on Sept. 14.

Mihailescu won her singles’ match in three sets in a third-set tiebreaker, 6-1, 4-6, 10-7.

Then, she team with Providence junior, Natalie Thulien, in doubles’ to win 10-8, in what turned out to be the overall match deciding victory.

Noah Dolhare, Providence Day Cross Country: The Providence Day senior set a new personal-best running a 15:48.40 to finish 11th overall in a loaded, Adidas Cross Country Challenge Boys’ championship field at Wake Med Park in Cary on Sept. 16.

Dolhare’s time was nearly eight seconds better than his previous personal-record (15:56.20) that he ran at the Nike Cross National Southeast Regional last November.

Sarah Parrish, Providence Girls’ Cross Country: The Providence senior set her personal-best twice in an eight-day span.

Parrish ran a then personal-record 18:43.76 at the Friday Night Lights’ Invitational at Ivan Redmon Park in Kernersville on Sept. 8, finishing 6th-place.

She broke her personal-best again at the Adidas Cross Country Challenge on Sept. 16, running an 18:39.70 to finish ninth overall.

Megan Frost, Myers Park Field Hockey: The Myers Park all-state, all-American junior forward has six goals in two, Mustang home victories last week.

Frost, a Stanford University commit, scored five goals in Myers Park’s 9-1 win over Ardrey Kell on Sept. 14.

Two days earlier, Frost scored a goal in the Mustangs (5-2) victory over Marvin Ridge.

Frost — who is already the schools’ all-time leader scorer (58 career goals) — has 12 goals and six assists this season.

Cierra Huntley and Rachel Brown, Davidson Day Volleyball: The Davidson Day duo led Patriots (16-2) to their seventh straight victory in a 3-0 sweep of Salem Baptist on Sept. 14.

Huntley had 10 kills, six digs and two aces in the win, while Brown recorded 26 assists and seven aces in the same match.

Huntley leads Davidson Day with 226 kills, while Brown has a team-best 440 assists this season.

Izzy Evely, Lake Norman Charter Girls’ Cross Country: The Lake Norman Charter senior also ran her personal-best 18:34.20 to finish fifth in the Girls’ Championship race at the Adidas Cross Country Challenge on Sept. 16.

Evely’s time was the No. 5 time run in the state to date this season.

Gavin Mouat, South Iredell Cross Country: The South Iredell senior set a new personal and school-record winning the Printcrafters’ Invitational at MacAnderson Park, running a 16:07 on Sept. 14.

Mouat also beat the field by 37 seconds in his record-breaking run.

Brian Risse, North Lincoln Cross Country: The North Lincoln junior won the Boys’ Invitational race at the Adidas Cross Country Challenge, running a 16:12.20, to beat the field by eight seconds on Sept. 16

Risse is so dedicated to his running regimen, he woke up the next day, Sept. 17, and “had run 13 miles and mowed the lawn before 9 a.m.,” according to North Lincoln cross country coach, Jerry Castro.

Grace Kinsch, East Lincoln Volleyball: The East Lincoln senior libero led the Mustangs to three, South Fork 2A conferences wins last week with 68 total digs in those matches.

Kinsch’s best performance of the week was at Maiden on Sept. 12, where she had 29 digs.

Kinsch had a season-high 52 digs in a 3-2 win over rival, North Lincoln on Sept. 5.

She has 221 digs this season.

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer:


This season’s finest highlights high school athletes with outstanding performances. Information published today includes statistics through Sept. 17. . In most cases, the athletes featured will come from sports that don’t get a lot of recognition. However, the goal is to recognize excellence. If you want to suggest someone to be included in This Season’s Finest column, send email to Jay Edwards at Please include the athletes’ name, school, class and applicable game performance statistics. Coaches must be willing to verify information.

Want to go?

The Serve For the Cure tournament will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at Charlotte Latin School, 9502 Providence Road, Charlotte 28277. Admission for adults is $5; students and chilren are free. T-shirts cost $15.

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