Ardrey Kell head coach Zoe Bell has won more than 500 volleyball games in her career and has led some great teams, but her 2011 team ranks among her best.
The Knights closed out the regular season this year at 25-2, with both losses coming to arch-rival Providence High.
The Knights enter the state tournament with confidence, ready to challenge for a title after a year of preparation.
Last Wednesday, Ardrey Kell backed up its confidence by claiming the Southwest 4A tournament title, knocking off Providence 3-2. The Panthers had won the previous two meetings by a combined score of 6-1.
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The Ardrey Kell win was a reflection of the team's hard work.
The motivation and focus shown by the team starts at the top; Bell's practices are highly organized. Every move is precise, every drill orchestrated with match-like intensity.
"I tell them all the time that they need to practice how they play. That gets them ready for anything," Bell said. "I am a demanding coach and I ask a lot out of my players. I wouldn't want to play for me."
Her focus and organization have transferred to her players, who have grown to reflect her views.
"Coach is so organized, and that leads to us being organized and prepared for each game," said middle blocker Emma Vail, one of three seniors on the team. "We have had a great year and we are very proud of what we have accomplished. We have stayed focused and really only played bad in the first Providence match."
Senior outside hitter Cameron McDuffie said that this year the Knights have been more focused on being a team. Everyone gets along on and off the court, McDuffie said, and the results have been staggering.
The Knights have won 25 matches and 76 of 89 games. There was a stretch earlier when they won 16 of 17 matches and 48 of 52 games, including a 3-0 loss to Providence.
"We never get complacent and keep an edge to us by setting little goals," said senior setter Caroline Zybala. "We never want to give up 10 points in any game, things like that. It keeps us focused."
"We have worked really hard and have overcome a lot this year," said junior libero Sarah Wyczawski. "We have had injuries and sicknesses to deal with, but we have always been able to overcome them."
Beating the Panthers to claim their first conference tournament title only fuels the Knights' desire for a first state title.
Wyczawski said many of the Knights and Panthers play on club teams, so beating them will mean bragging rights for the whole off-season, unless they meet in the state tournament.
"Our goal all season has been bigger than just winning the conference championship. We have been intently focused on winning the state title since before the season started," said Zybala.
Captains Zybala, Vail and McDuffie, the only seniors on the roster, say they are happy with the job they have done as leaders for younger players.
"Our seniors have been really great leaders for us all year. Not all of them are that loud or vocal, but they have been great leaders," Bell said.
Wyczawski, the other captain, said she has learned a lot from the seniors. "I know next year, when I am a senior, I will try to do many of the same things that they have taught me," Wyczawski said. "We have 11 juniors on this team, so we are all getting experience and learning as we go."