Cedar Ridge volleyball sweeps defending state champs Chapel Hill

Updated: November 20, 2020

As freshmen in 2019, Cedar Ridge’s Cameron Lloyd, Julie Altieri and Cameron Lanier didn’t flinch when they faced Chapel Hill, the three-time defending Big 8 Champions, in the conference opener.

The Red Wolves won 3-2 in Hillsborough. Chapel Hill didn’t lose again. They claimed the 3A State Championship with a 27-1 record.

So why would the Red Wolves be intimidated on Thursday night?

A year wiser and more mature, Cedar Ridge throttled the Tigers 3-0 on scores of 25-23, 25-21 and 25-12 at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill.

In front of a crowd limited to junior varsity players from both teams due to the pandemic, the Red Wolves dominated the defending 3A state champions to improve to 2-0 in the Big 8 Conference. Cedar Ridge started its season with a 3-0 win over Northwood on Tuesday night in Hillsborough.

It was the second win for new Cedar Ridge coach Fiona Cunningham, a former Chapel Hill assistant who faced her former team for the first time.

“It was a long of fun,” Cunningham said. “It’s always great to come out with a win. It was also fun to just feel that sense of volleyball community again. Players getting to see players again that they know. It brings a sense of normalcy.”

During a year where nothing has been normal, Cedar Ridge’s players have spent the year adjusting to a new routine. While most sports skidded to a halt around the world during the summer, the club volleyball season carried on, albeit to a lesser degree. Some of the Cedar Ridge players were teammates on the beach volleyball court, which allowed them to get used to playing with masks.

“I think we’ve all adapted to it pretty well,” said Altieri. “We’ve had a few struggles, but we’re working as a team to get through it and to get to know each other better.”

There’s no time for slack. Because of the pandemic, a regular season that ordinarily is 23-25 games has been riddled down to 14. It will be exclusively conference games for Cedar Ridge.

There also will be no wildcard in the playoffs. Only the top two teams for the Big 8 will see the postseason, which makes Cedar Ridge’s strong opening week all the more important.

After an 18-6 campaign in 2019 under former head coach Anna Seethaler that ended with an opening round playoff loss to Terry Sanford, the Red Wolves lost four seniors. Lloyd, Altieri and Lanier all played over 75 sets last season as freshmen.

On top of that, together they’ve now handed Chapel Hill its last two losses. The Tigers have gone 81-15 since 2017 with two regional championships and our Big 8 titles.

While it would be easy to attach a slogan like “a statement win” or “a changing of the guard” to Cedar Ridge sweeping the defending state champions, Cunningham has her own phrase.

A grain of salt.

“That’s how we’re taking it,” Cunningham said. “We know that Chapel Hill is a great team. But we also know that this year, more than any, will be anybody’s game when it comes to the playoffs. Teams are going to be rapidly changing this season.”

After Thursday night’s win, Cunningham received a congratulatory text from a Chapel Hill assistant about the Red Wolves’ performance. It’s a win over Chapel Hill in volleyball. Ordinarily, that would be something that speaks volumes.

For Cedar Ridge, it will—until Monday, at least. That’s when they host crosstown rival Orange, who defeated the Red Wolves at Cedar Ridge Gymnasium last year.

Cunningham will be new to the Hillsborough rivalry, but she knows what to expect. On Friday morning, she finished up practice with a word to her team about the first matchup with the Lady Panthers.

“We want to make sure that emotionally, it’s a stable game,” Cunningham said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about since the start of the season–not having big ups and downs. Coming off the Chapel Hill win, we don’t want our girls to start to get complacent.”

Orange will start its season on Friday night against East Chapel Hill inside Wildcats Gymnasium. The two teams split the season series in 2019.

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