All in all, the 2016 fall sports season has to be considered a solid one in Hillsborough.
Cedar Ridge and Orange each had one of its athletic teams win a Big 8 conference championship. There were four teams from each school (Cedar Ridge boys soccer, Orange volleyball, Cedar Ridge boys cross country and Orange girls cross country) that finished runner-up to Chapel Hill in the Big 8. Each of those Chapel Hill teams either won a state championship or played for one.
If there was one thing lacking, it was the amount of upsets. Perhaps because Orange and Cedar Ridge were evenly matched against each other or their league rivals in most sports.
In retrospect, there’s one match that stands out in bright, neon letters as the biggest upset of autumn: Cedar Ridge volleyball beating Chapel Hill on October 6.
The peculiar part of the Red Wolves’ upset is that Cedar Ridge had swept CHHS in 2015, each time in four games.
But Cedar Ridge didn’t merely undergo changes after the 2015 season, where they went 24-4, had a perfect Big 8 record and advanced to the fourth round of the 3A state playoffs.
They had a total extreme makeover.
On paper, it didn’t seem that Cedar Ridge’s losses would be massive after 2015. There were only two seniors: outside hitters Asha Barnes and Courtney Eckmann. Both valuable players who would be tough to replace, but there seemed to be enough players returning to make CRHS a factor in the Big 8 again.
Then Coach Charlie Oakley resigned in the winter to focus on starting a family. Rising senior Lily Henry suffered a torn ACL in the offseason. After playing in all 28 games in 2015, she was limited to 12 in 2016. Three rising seniors opted not to play volleyball to focus on other duties that come with being a senior in high school.
Just like that, the Red Wolves were without four starters and the head coach who took them to their greatest heights.
That’s only part of what made the win over CHHS so surprising.
Going into the match, Cedar Ridge had lost six of its last eight matches (not counting a forfeit victory over Bartlett Yancey on September 21). They had stumbled to a 4-6 start in Big 8 play, while the Tigers were riding an 11-game winning streak.
However, there were signs that Cedar Ridge was capability of pulling the upset in the first meeting with CHHS on September 13. The Red Wolves extending the match to five games, forcing the decisive fifth game with a 25-23 victory in the fourth set. The Tigers took the fifth 15-13 to improve to 9-3.
A month later, Cedar Ridge didn’t need a fifth set. Or a fourth one.
The Red Wolves rolled 25-20, 25-20 and 25-23. Meg Anderson and Alexis Dumain each had nine kills, while Kayla Robinette registered seven. Dumain, Anderson and Henry each had three aces. Linsday Thompson had a team-leading 18 digs, while Henry finished with 19 assists.
Cedar Ridge missed the playoffs and finished 8-14. Chapel Hill would play for the 3A state championship three weeks later against Concord Cox Mill in Reynolds Coliseum.
It wasn’t the year the Red Wolves wanted, but they can always lay claim to the biggest upset of 2016 in Hillsborough.