Their conference winning streak is at 21 games. It’s been nearly two years since they lost a conference match.
Most importantly, Cedar Ridge volleyball has won the 2021 Central Carolina Conference championship.
Regardless, as the regular season enters its final week, one thing you won’t find Cedar Ridge volleyball doing is resting on its laurels. Coach Fiona Cunningham won’t allow it.
As match point was secured against Eastern Alamance on Tuesday night to officially clinch the league title, there was some celebrating by the Red Wolves, but it was emotionally balanced. Many of these Red Wolves have played together for three years. A year after winning the Big 8 Conference championship in a season shortened to eight league games by the pandemic, the Red Wolves aren’t happy with simply reaching the state playoffs.
Last there, there were 32 teams in the postseason. This year, it will be 64 again. It’s a wider postseason world that the Red Wolves will enter in two weeks, but one they’re prepared for.
Yet the CCC championship can’t be overlooked, not only because the Red Wolves are one win away from finishing with a perfect 12-0 league mark, but of the quality opponents they’ve defeated.
The latest RPI rankings from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association show Cedar Ridge ranked #1 in the 3A East Region. Of the top nine teams, four are from the CCC. That includes Northwood at #3, who the Red Wolves swept in Pittsboro on September 2. On September 28, the Red Wolves defeated the Chargers 3-1 to all but sew up the league title.
Person is ranked #4 and Orange is #9. The Red Wolves swept the regular season series against both of those teams, winning 3-0 each time.
“I think I knew it was possible to win the league,” Cunningham said. “We have a lot of strong teams in this conference. That means we’re prepared for what we’re going to see in the tournament.”
Eastern Alamance is #14, who the Red Wolves defeated 3-0 on Tuesday in Red Wolves Gymnasium. Junior outside hitter Cameron Lloyd finished with 17 kills and 13 digs. Setter Julie Altieri, who eclipsed 1,000 assists for her career against Eastern Alamance on September 9 in Mebane, added another 24 assists to her career total. Melissa Benkowitz added another seven kills.
The Red Wolves trailed only once in the whole match, when Eastern Alamance won the opening point of the third set off a kill by Makiya Graves. The Red Wolves immediately erased that with a 6-1 run, which started with a Lloyd kill set up by Altieri.
On Thursday night, the Red Wolves defeated Western Alamance 25-16, 25-8 and 25-22 in Elon to improve its mark to 18-1 overall, 11-0 in the CCC.
Against league opponents, Cedar Ridge has won 33 sets and lost just three. It opened the season by winning 24 consecutive sets over eight matches.
Yet this team will not stop testing itself as it ventures into the 3A State Playoffs, possibly as the #1 seed. On Saturday, the Red Wolves will play in a tri-match tournament at Chapel Hill High School. They will play four games, all against teams that have already clinched their respective conference championships. They will open against undefeated Green Hope at 9 AM. The Falcons are 11-0 in the Southwest Wake Conference.
Then they face Chapel Hill, a former Big 8 Conference rival that the Red Wolves had a heated scrimmage against in August. The Tigers are 11-0 in the DAC-VII, 17-1 overall.
Most importantly, the Red Wolves will face J.H. Rose at 1PM, who is ranked #2 in the 3A East Region. The game could decide homecourt advantage for the 3A East State Playoffs. Rose’s only loss in the Big East 3A/4A is to D.H. Conley, the defending 3A State Champions who Cedar Ridge has split two meetings with this season. Conley returned to 4A over the summer.
Cedar Ridge will conclude the day against Pinecrest at 2PM. The Patriots, a 4A team from the Sandhills Conference, is 16-1 and has already clinched the league title.
Cunningham, who organized the schedule, would have it no other way.
“I want to make sure that our girls are being pushed,” Cunningham said. “Last year, that was one of our bigger downfalls is when we only had nine games. We didn’t have a nonconference schedule and then we had to play some teams that weren’t like the ones we had to play. We’re trying to solve that before we get to the state playoffs.”