It’s been 10 years since North Raleigh Christian’s volleyball team had a shot at winning a state title.
The Knights won’t have to wait 10 years for another chance, not after beating Charlotte’s Covenant Day in five sets Saturday to win their first N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A state championship.
In the 1A state final, Statesville Christian beat Oakwood School to finish the season at 24-0. Statesville won 3-1. In 2A, Caldwell Academy polished off a 28-4 season with a 3-1 win over Davidson Day (22-2).
In the 3A classification, North Raleigh Christian – the tournament’s top seed, finishing its season at 28-2 – overcame a furious comeback by the second-seeded Lions (25-9), who fought back from a 2-0 deficit to force a tiebreaker.
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“They took their eyes off the prize for two sets,” Knights head coach Chris Murray said. “We were playing as though we were behind, we were playing as though the other team was better than us.
“Once they refocused and realized that we were playing this game to honor Christ … it has nothing they do with us. They were able to refocus and realize that. They just had to be reminded of that.”
Before Saturday, the last Raleigh-area school to win the NCISAA 3A volleyball title was Cardinal Gibbons. The Crusaders won six consecutive championships between 1998-2003 before moving to the N.C. High School Athletic Association in 2005, where they have won nine titles over the past 10 years.
Since then, however, the Charlotte schools have dominated the NCISAA volleyball scene – Charlotte Latin, which ended Gibbons’ title run in 2004, went on to take the 3A title nine straight years; Charlotte Country Day ended Latin’s run in 2013, and won again in 2014.
North Raleigh Christian won the first two sets 25-22 and 25-20, and appeared to be in control. But Covenant Day fought back, winning the third and fourth sets by scores of 25-17 and 25-22 to force the tiebreaker.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Lions head coach Heather Mills said. “We played (Charlotte) Catholic just a couple weeks ago and down 0-2, and had the heart to fight back and beat them.
“We needed a win like that at the end of the season, and we drew upon that. Those kids have a lot of heart, so I didn’t think we were out of it. But I knew we had a big road ahead of us.”
However, just as quickly as the match’s momentum swung Covenant Day’s way, it switched back to North Raleigh Christian. The Lions jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the tiebreaker, then closed out the set and the match by scoring the final five points.
“We lost focus, and let our emotions get to us,” NRC libero Kincey Smith said. “We kinda thought we had it in the bag, but the energy kinda shifted to their side.
“Coach told us, ‘We’re the better team; we’ve been preparing for this all year long, and we know what to do.’ We just had to settle down and play our game.”