My friend and colleague Kelly Snow, the editor of the Courier-Times in Roxboro, once dubbed his hometown “Volleyball City.”

And with good reason.

In 2018, Roxboro Community School advanced to the 1A State Championship match, where they lost to Community School of Davidson. The Bulldogs won four straight North Central Athletic Conference Championships from 2014-2017.

The Person Rockets had three straight trips to the 4A State Championship match and claimed back-to-back state titles in 2005 and 2006.

It is indeed Volleyball City. Or, at least, it was.

Until 2019.

That’s when Cedar Ridge’s current senior class were only freshman. From the time they first scrimmaged together in August 2019 at a community center in Burlington, without air conditioning, then-head coach Anna Seethaler knew something special was brewing immediately. When asked how this team would be, she simply said “Look out.”

Three weeks later, the Red Wolves stunned defending 3A State Champion Chapel Hill in five sets at Red Wolves Gymnasium. Though Seethaler wouldn’t be around to see her players greatest moments, it was the launching point for what it is now undeniable.

Hillsborough is the new Volleyball City.

Cedar Ridge won the 3A State Championship last year, dropping just two sets in five matches in the state tournament. The Red Wolves have won two consecutive conference championships and 31 straight conference matches. The Cedar Ridge senior class of Cameron Lloyd, Julie Altieri, Cameron Lanier, Grace Young, and Anaya Carter have a four-year record of 71-10.

It doesn’t stop there.

The Orange volleyball team is only one game behind the Red Wolves currently in the Central Carolina Conference. They’re on track to earn an automatic trip to the state playoffs and are online for its best conference finish since 2016. Earlier this month, Orange defeated Person in Roxboro for the first time since 2014. Currently, the Lady Panthers are ranked #8 in the 3A East Region. Last year, Orange defeated West Johnston for its first win in the state playoffs since 2015. This year, there’s hope they could host two state playoff matches.

Then there’s the new kid on the block. Eno River Academy is rolling through an undefeated season. The Bobcats are 6-0 in the 1-A Triangle North Conference and appear well on its way to winning its first conference championship. On September 9, the Bobcats claimed a five-set thriller over Roxboro Community on Highway 57. The Bobcats will be the heavy favorite going into tonight’s match against Excelsior Classical Academy. Eno River’s first match in October will be a rematch against Roxboro Community in Person County.

On top of all that, the future at the middle school level is promising. Last October, the Orange Middle School Chargers captured the Orange-Person Athletic Conference championship.

Today is the first day of fall. If there’s any downside to the change of seasons, it’s that each day that goes by brings the final chapters of some of the greatest seniors to ever play sports in Hillsborough closer to the end.

At Cedar Ridge, Cameron Lloyd is the all-time kills leader in school history. Cameron Lanier is only the second Red Wolf to amass over 500 kills, joined only by Lloyd. Altieri will go into tonight’s match against Person with a record 1,719 assists. Libero Grace Young has committed to play at UNC Asheville and her defense has helped Cedar Ridge win 39 consecutive sets. Melissa Benkowitz, who transferred to Cedar Ridge from East Chapel Hill to start 2021, was a key outside hitter that gave the Red Wolves an incredible array of weapons. Benkowitz made the transition from setter to hitter under head coach Fiona Cunningham flawlessly. Anaya Carter has been a reliable striker and defensive presence since her freshman year.

At Orange, the blend between youth and experience has been more stark. There are seven seniors who share playing time with three freshmen. After a win over Carrboro on Monday, senior Erin Jordan-Cornell joked that the seniors looked at the freshmen as their “little babies” and she was a “mama bear.” Jordan-Cornell is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Orange’s Allie Wilkerson recently committed to Division III Avertt University. Her younger sister, freshman Ava Wilkerson, stands 6-2 with enough range to score kills flat-footed.

All three Hillsborough high schools have special senior classes who will each leave their own identities once they graduate in June. It would be inaccurate to say that Cedar Ridge and Orange have banded together to make Hillsborough the new Volleyball City. The rivalry between the Red Wolves and the Panthers is a strong one with heathy doses of civility and animosity blended in.

The sum of the parts have made volleyball in Hillsborough whole.

And all together, Hillsborough is the new Volleyball City.

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