Green Hope’s volleyball dynasty completed its four-year run with a fourth consecutive N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state title led by three college scholarship-bound seniors, Sydney Dowler (Maryland), Alexis Engelbrecht (Iowa State) and Priscilla Jones (East Carolina).
The East Regional champion of Cary defeated West Regional titlist Ardrey Kell of Charlotte in four games Saturday afternoon at Capel Arena on the Fayetteville State campus.
Green Hope’s reign has been dominant as well as complete. The Falcons were on the verge of sweeping a state finalist for the third time in four years, but the Knights didn’t give in that easily. Ardrey Kell rallied in the third game before eventually falling 25-13, 25-16, 23-25 and 25-20.
“We wanted to leave everything on the court,” Kell senior Bridget Elmore said. “We didn’t want to regret we could have done more.”
Green Hope’s on-court celebration was a short one, but asked to rank the state titles, coach Karl Redelfs and his players said they couldn’t do it.
“They’re all equally special,” said Dowler, who was named the championship game MVP for the fourth year in a row.
In five state playoff wins this year, Green Hope recorded three consecutive sweeps before dropping one game in the regional final to Broughton and one game in the state final. The Falcons’ secret is maximizing their balanced lineup with the all-around play of Dowler, a 6-foot setter than can play the net.
“We have athletes and consistent passers,” Redelfs said. “A lot of our practice time is spent on serving, so it’s tough for us to get stuck in one rotation. Sydney runs the offense and gives everyone good looks. We play other teams that have a dominant individual, but we’re a tough team to play against because every person can go off. And Sydney is good at feeding who is hot.”
Another Green Hope strength is putting away teams once the score reaches the 20s. It’s tough to it them without a two- or three-point lead at that threshold, but Ardrey Kell won the third game while overcoming deficits of 20-18 and 22-20.
The Knights scored three consecutive points to take a 23-22 lead on a kill from Alexis Shelton and a block Samantha Stanley. The Knights won two of the next three points to avoid a shutout.
Kell also took a 9-5 lead to start the fourth game until Green Hope rallied with its own five-point run that led to a 13-11 lead.
“We didn’t capitalize on some points, but Green Hope is an exceptional team,” Kell coach Zoe Bell said. “A point or two goes the other way in the fourth set and there might have been a fifth set. But I’m proud of these girls. They did everything I asked and it paid off at the end of the season.”
RECORDS: Green Hope (27-2); Ardrey Kell (25-6).
THREE WHO MATTERED
Annie, Elvin, Green Hope: The junior outside hitter finished with 14 kills, but her biggest point was saving a ball as it was going out of bounds with the back of her hand in the fourth game. The ball dribbled over the net for a point against the surprised Knights. The point cut Kell’s lead to 10-7 as the Falcons won eight of the next 10 points.
Grace Patrick, Green Hope: The senior outside hitter contributed 12 kills.
Alexis Shelton, Ardrey Kell: The 6-2 sophomore has a bright future as she led the Knights with 15 kills.
▪ Prior to state final matches, the NCHSAA presents a player from each school with an NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Award. Green Hope’s Rhea Ramkumar and Ardrey Kell’s Danielle Owens were honored. The awards are part of the NCHSAA’s never-ending task to educate fans as well as players not to mimic behavior seen on TV in professional sports.
▪ Ninth grade is a tough time to move to a new city and high school, but Dowler, who arrived from Wisconsin, and Engelbrecht, from Georgia, said sports helped their transition.
“Freshman year Sydney and I were our only friends,” Engelbrecht said. “We had lunch every day. It was a scary experience, but I had my team to rely on. Our seniors were pretty welcoming.”