There are three reasons why, theoretically, Ardrey Kell shouldn’t be playing for the 4A volleyball state championship Saturday.
Reason 1 was a 3-0 loss Sept. 24 to Providence. The second reason was a 3-1 loss to Providence on Oct. 17. The third reason? You might have guessed it — a 3-0 setback to Providence on Oct. 23.
But it will be Ardrey Kell (25-5) playing at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville State’s Capel Arena for the 4A state crown, against Cary Green Hope (26-2).
Part of the drive to the finals included Ardrey Kell’s second-round 3-0 playoff victory over Providence on Halloween. It served as a springboard for the Knights.
“Something clicked,” says Ardrey Kell coach Zoe Bell, who coached the Knights to the state crown in 2012 after guiding Providence to four state titles in her tenure (1989-2007) with the Panthers.
“I gave them the path, but it was all them,” Bell says of the victory over Providence and the playoff surge. “They figured it all out.”
The pieces were always there. The Knights have nine seniors, including 5-10 East Carolina commit Sania McCoy, who has 232 kills and 56 aces this season.
“But of our 16 players, 14 of them missed at least one practice or a game with injury,” Bell says. “Maybe the answer is that we finally got healthy.”
McCoy says the Knights never quit believing in themselves.
“We knew we had lost three times,” she said of Providence. “But we believed in ourselves, and we believed we could beat them.”
Adds senior Jadyn Barry, who has missed the entire season while recovering from knee surgery, “We knew it could be our last match.”
So now the Knights are on the edge of doing something special, and at least some of their players always thought this was possible.
“Last spring, I realized we had nine seniors,” says senior Bridget Elmore. “I thought maybe we could do something.”
Senior Mya Duggan, who sets up the attack and has 768 assists (an average of 25.6 per match), says, “We knew we had the talent, too. So we knew we were capable of a really good season.”
Sophomore Alexis Shelton leads the team in kills (259), while Elmore leads in blocks (52). Several reserves have played key roles down the stretch, Bell says.
The Knights’ timing hasn’t been good. They’re vying for attention at their school in a season when the football team is setting records for consecutive victories and the boys’ soccer team is a powerhouse.
But the Knights say they have plenty of self-motivation.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve come,” McCoy says. “We’ve worked together and done this as a team.”
Elmore says winning the state championship “would be incredible.”
But, she adds, “Mostly, we want to leave everything on the floor. It’s the last time we’ll play together here. We will give it our all.”
Other finals Saturday
Ardrey Kell isn’t the only area team playing for a state championship Saturday in Fayetteville. Newton Fred T. Foard (31-1) will face Ayden-Grifton (22-5) for the 2A title at 7:30 p.m.
The other finals have West Henderson (30-6) against Chapel Hill (26-1) at noon in 3A; and East Surry (28-3) facing Creedmoor Falls Lake Academy (26-5) at 5 p.m. in 1A.
And in South Carolina, Fort Mill Nation Ford (47-5) faces Lexington (35-7) at Lexington’s River Bluff High for the 5A state crown. That match is set for 7 p.m.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle