South Charlotte

Athlete of the week: Volleyball star making her own name with Knights

For most of their lives, Adrian and Rachel Eppley did everything together.

The sisters - stars on the Hopewell volleyball team the last few years - now are separated, as Adrian Eppley attends Clemson University.

Rachel, 16, transfered to Ardrey Kell this summer for her junior year, where she is not only without her sister but is the new girl.

"I have always had Adrian around, so it's kind of strange, and at the same time tough, to be at a new school where I don't really know many people," Rachel Eppley said. "But we talk every day, and I'm adjusting to school and everything that goes with it."

Volleyball made almost everything easier for Eppley. She got a new set of friends in the Ardrey Kell volleyball team and finds the game an escape from everyday stress.

Eppley already knew several of her teammates at Ardrey Kell, including Caitlin Watkins and Cameron McDuffie, from her Carolina Junior Volleyball team, which draws some of the top talent in Charlotte.

"Volleyball has definitely been a constant in my life for a long time," said Eppley, who started playing in seventh grade. "Volleyball is always a place where I can escape and just play the game. It's helped a lot with all the stresses."

Eppley quickly has endeared herself to her teammates and coach Zoe Bell with her tenacity on and off the court. The team knew it was getting a talented player: Eppley recorded 233 kills and 533 digs for 27-4 Hopewell last season.

Eppley, an outside hitter, has responded to her new surroundings with 107 kills and 130 digs as a key component of the undefeated Knights (11-0, 4-0 in SW4A through Sept. 12), who expect to challenge for Southwestern 4A conference and state titles next month.

"Rachel is a great all-around talent," Bell said. "She was a great addition to an already good team. But she stands out with her ability to play defense like very few can. Her ability to read and react is unbelievable."

The main reason Eppley came to Ardrey Kell was to challenge herself academically. Eppley currently boasts a 4.4 GPA.

"My decision wasn't really about volleyball," said Eppley, who also considered Charlotte Latin and Hough High. "It was more, to me, about academics. My number one goal this year is to get straight A's."

Rachel's desire to succeed comes from her family. Her father, Mike, was a standout quarterback for Clemson in the early 1980s, while her older brother, Logan, also played football at Hopewell, graduating in 2006, and her oldest sister, Olivia - also at Clemson - was also a standout volleyball player at Hopewell.

The family tradition motivates Eppley, who said she hopes to follow in her family's footsteps to Clemson, which currently is her No. 1 college choice. "Education is first, so that is my number one goal," she said, "but I'd love to play volleyball in college. But I have a lot to do before that."

With all-SW4A and all-state candidates like Eppley, McDuffie, Watkins, and seniors Emma Vail and Caroline Zybala, many think the Knights, and archrival Providence High, will be among the teams fighting for a 4A state title.