Take a look at the photo above this post.

Now look closer.

When Cedar Ridge’s players wanted a group photo to pose with their newly captured 3A Eastern Regional Volleyball championship trophy on Tuesday night, they made sure to include the student section (the Wolf Pack) in there with them.

From August 19, when Cedar Ridge swept Riverside for its first home win, the Wolf Pack has been there from the beginning. They’ve stuck through local government sanctions that curtailed attendance and remained staunchly behind a team that has had playing for the state championship its main goal since the first day of practice—three years ago.

That’s what Cedar Ridge’s 3A Eastern Regional volleyball championship represents to this school and western Orange County as a whole.

On Tuesday night, it wasn’t simply a win for Cedar Ridge to defeat J.H. Rose and advance to today’s 3A State Championship match at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. It was an emotional release for students who haven’t been able to enjoy rudimentary activities that their counterparts at most neighboring schools look forward to annually.

How so? For starters, the Class of 2022 hasn’t had varsity football in two of its four years. There have been Homecoming activities, like the one last month during a junior varsity football game against Walter Williams, but it was on a Thursday night. For half of their time at Cedar Ridge, if the seniors wanted to see Friday Night Lights, they had to travel across town to Auman Stadium, or go to Chapel Hill or Durham.

And need I even mention the pandemic and the dozens of games lost as a result? The records that could have been shattered by the likes of Takia Nichols, Cameron Lloyd, Emerson Talley and countless others boggles the mind.

In any aspect of life, people cling to what they can rely on. Whether its Alabama Football, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson putting away the bad guys, Beyonce putting on a killer concert (Rush in my dated mind), or holidays with your parents, there’s no substitute for something you can put your faith in.

That’s been hard to do with Cedar Ridge athletics in recent years. Between coaches and players, there have been many defections to neighboring schools. The right pieces have been in place to establish a football program again, just as the late, great Lou Geary started 20 years ago when he picked up rocks at the field that would become Red Wolves Stadium. Keeping coaches and players has proven difficult at a time when the future of football in Hillsborough has never been more uncertain.

Athletes in other sports have opted to finish their high school careers at various Alamance County Schools instead of staying at Cedar Ridge, even if it meant much less playing time. If they played at all.

Today will be the first time that any Cedar Ridge athletic team has played for a head-to-head state championship since 2017. The Cedar Ridge men’s lacrosse team won the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship over Chapel Hill, but lost to a much more talented Weddington team in the final at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

There have been other opportunities for the Red Wolves to return to the state championship spotlight. Most notably, there was the 2018 softball team, a squad that roared through the Big 8 Conference undefeated and finished 15-1 behind pitcher Rivers Andrews, 2nd baseman Tori Dalehite, catcher Kymberlie Thacker and first baseman Kara Wagoner.

The only problem with that 15-1 season was there were a lot of rainouts, which cost the Red Wolves a chance to play nonconfernece games against Western Alamance and Cardinal Gibbons. That led to a much lower seed than they deserved and a third-round game against top-seeded West Brunswick in Shallotte, where the Red Wolves lost 4-3 in nine innings. It’s a game that softball coach Allan Byrd remembers so vividly years later, he can tell you the key moments point-by-point like a poker player detailing a bad beat.

It’s trite to say that this state volleyball championship would mean more to Cedar Ridge than it would to North Iredell. Anyone who goes back and watches North Iredell’s victory over Fred T. Foard on Tuesday night can’t say that with certainty. If you doubt the passion that Raider fans have for their team, just try to find a empty seat on the hard side of the camera from that Western Regional Championship game.

Spoiler alert: you can’t.

One thing is for sure at Cedar Ridge. After 57 wins, two conference championships and a regional championship over the past three years in volleyball, Red Wolf fans have something to rally around again.

Even more, the volleyball team has followed the template for how to succeed in any sport.

Start young and develop. Cameron Lloyd, Julie Altieri, Grace Young, Anaya Carter and Rachel Alverson all started playing against each other at the White Cross Recreation Center when they were in elementary school. They’ve worked year round, beyond the confines of Cedar Ridge and inside the gyms of the Chapel Hill Area Volleyball Club, and later on beach volleyball courts.

While tomorrow never knows, with all nine Cedar Ridge rotation players set to return next year, it appears the Red Wolves will be the team to beat again in 2022 in the Central Carolina Conference. Possibly the entire East Region.

All Cedar Ridge wants today is one more win to add to its school record total of 30. Regardless, they can sleep tonight with the security of being something that the entire Red Wolf community can rely on.

And not a moment too soon.

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