There are two types of Cedar Ridge volleyball wins.
There are Bojangles wins and there are Mexican Restaurant wins.
Typically, a quick and easy win calls for postgame team dinner at Bojangles. Big wins, over rivals like Orange and Person, mean a trip to Pueblo Viejo Mexican Restaurant on South Churton Street in Hillsborough.
The latest Cedar Ridge victory falls into a category by itself. There was no time for a postgame meal. Only time to ice down and rest.
After sweeping the entire Eastern Region, there is a state championship to play for, after all.
The Red Wolves (30-2) completed a dominant run to the 3A Eastern Regional championship by beating J.H. Rose 3-0 at a packed Red Wolves Gymnasium on Tuesday night. Cedar Ridge will play North Iredell for the 3A State Championship on Saturday afternoon at Reynolds Coliseum. First serve will be at 1:30.
It is Cedar Ridge’s first regional championship in a team sport since winning the 2017 men’s lacrosse championship, where they defeated Chapel Hill at Red Wolves Stadium.
It was the first time this year that Rose (24-4) was swept by a 3A team. Over the course of the past eleven days, Cedar Ridge defeated South Brunswick, South Johnston, Harnett Central, Northwood and J.H. Rose in the 3A State Playoffs without dropping a set. The Red Wolves have won 30 consecutive sets.
Cedar Ridge coach Fiona Cunningham will return to the State Championship game. As an assistant at Chapel Hill, the Tigers won the 2019 3A State Championship, the year before she joined Cedar Ridge. Twice as a player with Chapel Hill in 2011 and 2012, Cunningham reached the 3A Eastern Regional final, where the Tigers lost to Cardinal Gibbons each time.
“I was quite convinced that Rose would take a set from us,” Cunningham said. “Not even just before the game but during the game. They are a phenomenal team. They have great athletes, great coaches, great players. We came into tonight ready to fight for five (sets).”
While Cedar Ridge gained another sweep, the Red Wolves’ poise was tested unlike no other team this postseason. Rose bolted out to a 6-1 lead in each of the first two sets. The usual avenues for Red Wolves points, mainly hard smashes from the left end of the floor by Cameron Lloyd and Melissa Benkowitz, were usually dug by Rose libero Riley Cutler and sophomore setter Shea Jenkins. Cedar Ridge mounted its comeback in the first set off blocks by Lloyd and Cameron Lanier.
“We’ve been working at blocking all season,” Cunningham said. “Before I started at Cedar Ridge, that was one of the first things I knew we needed to change was blocking. It’s been a weakness for the program. Addie Reid and Lanier really stepped up and took control. That’s what we worked on yesterday in practice.”
While Cedar Ridge has a 8-woman rotation comprised of six juniors, it was their two sophomores who provided critical points when the situation required it most. With the opening frame tied 20-20, Addie Reid made a huge block off an attack by Emily Smith to give the Red Wolves the lead. The Red Wolves, who trailed 11-5 at one point, scored four of the final five points, including a kill by Lanier. Setter Julie Altieri served up an ace on set point.
In the 2nd set, tied 20-20, Cedar Ridge got a side out after a finish by Lloyd. Sophomore Graylinn Serge served the Red Wolves out for the final four points, starting with an ace that bounced on the grey line along the brown hardwood floor. Leading 22-20, Altieri made a quick flash kill that landed between three outstretched Rampants. Benkowitz factored in on the final two plays of the set, starting with a kill for the 24th point and another spike for set point that went off the hands of blocker Helen Wilford.
“That’s just what our program is,” Cunningham said. “We’ve told them the whole season that it’s not up to one person to win. This is up to a whole team to win. That showed today.”
Rose led 7-3 in the third set before Reid came up with another kill, which unchained a Cedar Ridge avalanche. With Serge serving, the Red Wolves went on a 11-1 run. Serge had consecutive aces to put Cedar Ridge into the lead for good. After a side out for Rose, Benkowitz racked up back-to-back aces and the rout was on. Cedar Ridge led 24-15 when Addie Reid finished off the match with a kill where she only partially caught the ball on an overhead spike, but just enough to get it to the floor and move the Red Wolves on to Raleigh.