It’s a ride that the truly great teams in Orange and Cedar Ridge history have taken.
The trip to Pullen Road in Raleigh. It’s a route that the 2017 Orange softball team rode when they swept a two-game series from Piedmont to win the 3A State Championship at Dail Park.
One Saturday afternoon in 2021, the Cedar Ridge volleyball team turned onto Pullen Road after sweeping J.H. Rose to win the Eastern Regional championship four days earlier. Two hours later, they emerged with their own state championship, beating North Iredell in four sets.
When it was time for the Orange volleyball team to make its trip to Raleigh on Saturday, they were accompanied by an escort from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as they rode down the road that bears the high school’s name.
Two weeks after the Rolling Stones released its first album of new studio material in 18 years, the Orange volleyball players got to feel a little like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for a few days. They were treated like celebrities after they defeated Carrboro to win the 3A Eastern Regional Championship.
That’s because the state championship match isn’t just one game, regardless of the sport.
It’s an experience.
In fact, the principal of Efland-Cheeks Elementary School, Kelly Parks, extended an invitation to the Orange volleyball team to meet with their students before they clinched the regional championship.
“The win just made it sweeter,” said Orange coach Hope Heverly.
As Orange arrived on Friday, they were showered with posters designed by students. They signed autographs and listened to chants of “Go, Orange, Go” from the pupils.
“It was so cute because the students acted like we were celebrities,” said senior Ella Wimsatt. “They asked for our autographs. It’s a good feeling to feel wanted by your community.”
For Heverly, it was a return to Raleigh. She made the same trip to Reynolds Coliseum as a player in 2004, the only other time Orange volleyball reached the state championship match. They were swept by Mooresville.
“It didn’t look as big as it did when I was 18,” Heverly said. “But it did bring back some memories. The players should feel very proud. This is a tremendous accomplishment to reach. Not everyone can say they reach this point. So to have the opportunity to play here, and then to coach here with such an amazing team, I feel truly lucky.”
This Orange volleyball team will go down in history as an elite one, but there was a difference between them and their predecessors in softball and volleyball.
The 2017 softball team always had reaching the state championship series in mind six years ago. The mission started the previous year, when they were knocked out in the third round by C.B. Aycock when Mia and Montana Davidson played alongside each other.
Likewise, the 2021 Cedar Ridge volleyball team knew their mission was Reynolds Coliseum or bust when they swept defending 3A State Champions D.H. Conley in Greenville in the first week of the 2021 season.
Even after they won the Central Carolina Conference regular season championship with a 12-0 record, the Orange volleyball players weren’t sure what was ahead in the state playoffs because it was all uncharted waters.
“Honestly, I knew we would have a pretty good team,” Porter said. “But I never imagined playing in a state championship. Other than girls at Cedar Ridge, I don’t know anyone who has played in a state championship before. So it’s really an unreal feeling. And I feel very grateful to be a part of this team.”
It was especially unusual for a team that played three sophomores and a freshman in its rotation for the final three weeks of the year, including Aubrey Jordan, who was second on the team in kills.
“I remember being little and hearing people talk about state championships,” Jordan said. “But as a sophomore, I never expected to be here. It’s incredible.”
This season, Heverly returned to high school coaching nine years after she left Person High. When she replaced Kelly Young in April, she knew her team’s potential. But she couldn’t imagine what the ride would look like.
“We definitely wouldn’t have been here without our coach,” Wimsatt said. “I couldn’t be happier with this team. I don’t think most teams go into their season thinking they were going to reach a state championship. I think we did a good job pushing through this season.”
While the storybook ended of winning a state championship didn’t come to fruition at Reynolds, it wasn’t a losing experience.
A certain rock star might say that Orange didn’t get what they wanted, but they got what they needed.
“I’m walking out with my head held high,” Porter said. “It sucks that we lost, but I gave it my all. Our team gave it our all.”
RALEIGH–It was a good day for Orange volleyball.
They played for a 3A State Championship on Saturday for only the second time in school history. Hundreds of fans drove in from Hillsborough to Reynolds Coliseum at Valvano Arena to watch them play. When Orange’s players were introduced, the lights dimmed down and the spotlight came on, each player stepping onto the floor with adoring applause in the same arena that David Thompson, Rodney Monroe and Tom Burleson played in. And Kay Yow coached in.
When Kings Mountain’s Melie Saongaila slammed down match point onto the polyethylene floor to end an epic five-set match, there were some tears along a disappointed Orange bench.
It was the last game for seniors Ella Wimsatt, Sadye Porter, Josie Crawford and Blessiny Deronette.
But there wasn’t bitterness and there wasn’t a feeling of a season that had fallen short of expectations.
Orange was the first team to extend Kings Mountain to five sets in 2023. The Mountaineers lost only four sets all year, then dropped two of the first three to the Lady Panthers on Saturday.
In the postmatch press conference, there were even a few smiles that flashed across the faces of Wimsatt, Porter, Aubrey Jordan and head coach Hope Heverly. They knew this was a team that had played to the maximum of its ability.
In the end, they were only three points shy of winning the first volleyball state championship in school history.
Kings Mountain (33-1) defeated Orange 3-2 on scores of 25-12, 25-27, 20-25, 25-21, 15-12. The Mountaineers claimed its third state championship, its first since 2001. They ended the season with 19 consecutive wins.
Orange, playing in its first state championship match since 2004, ends the season 27-5.
Songaila, a senior who finished with over 500 kills on the season, was named Most Valuable Player.
“I am very proud of this team,” Heverly said. “I wish the outcome could have been a little different but I’m super proud of their grit and their determination.”
The ballots for MVP were passed out on press row after the third set. If the vote had been decided at that point, the winner may have been Jordan.
Tied 10-10 in the third set, Jordan’s attacks at the net grew more efficient against a technically strong Mountaineers squad. In Orange’s final 15 points of the third set, Jordan had five kills, including a spike from the near post on set point to give the Lady Panthers a 25-20 victory that sent the Hillsborough faithful into delirium.
“We knew the match wasn’t over,” Wimsatt said. “We were confident, but we weren’t getting cocky about that because we knew they were a good team, too. We knew they would come back. We had to keep our energy up.”
Wimsatt was awarded the Sportsmanship Award by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association in a pregame ceremony, along with Mary Grace Hogue of Kings Mountain.
Down two-sets-to-one, it would have been easy for Kings Mountain to play scared in the fourth. Instead, they looked more determined. Orange’s only lead in the fourth came when Jordan scored off a feed from freshman Sawyer White to go ahead 2-1. Kings Mountain’s Mary Grace Hogue scored after a long rally when she found an open spot in Orange’s backcourt to even the set, which was followed by a block from senior Myracle Davis. Kings Mountain went on a 7-2 run to take an 11-6 lead after consecutive kills by Songaila. Orange played from behind the entire set. trailing by as much as 14-7. Wimsatt scored off a kill to make it 21-17, but that was as close as Orange would get. Davis took a feed from sophomore Camden Peysour for a thunderous kill to force a fifth set.
Orange’s only lead of the fifth set came after Ava Wilkerson blocked an attack from Davis. Kings Mountain notched the next four points, including a kill by Davis. After two returns by Orange went into the net, Heverly called timeout.
Wilkerson, who had octopus arms blocking all sorts of Mountaineers attacks throughout the day, scored Orange’s next two points. She took an assist from Katie Silcott for a spike, then blocked another Davis spike to reduce the Kings Mountain advantage to 6-4. Kings Mountain responded with four in a row, fueled by kills from Hogue and Davis, followed by an ace from Hogue that made it 10-4.
Orange refused to fold, scoring four in a row. Wimsatt came through with a kill, followed by an ace from junior Abby Silinski to cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 10-8.
Orange sent the next serve long. Songaila took a spike and slammed down a kill to make it 12-8. Wimsatt got another kill. Crawford got an ace to reduce Orange’s deficit to 12-10. Songaila came through again with a kill, but Wimsatt scored consecutive points to make it a one-point match at 13-12. With Orange serving for a tie, Paysour set up Davis for a big kill at the middle of the floor, leading to Songaila scoring on match point.
Orange’s ascendance to the Eastern Regional Championship was so fast, it was easy to forget they often had three sophomores and a freshman in the lineup. Kings Mountain provided a rude awakening in the opening set. After Orange opened with a 7-4 lead, the Mountaineers ended the frame with a 21-5 run, keyed by four kills from Songaila.
“I think we had a little bit of nerves,” Heverly said. “You would never know by how well this team plays together, but we’re a sophomore-heavy team. We have some great seniors leading the team, but overall the team is very young. I think the nerves got the best of us that first set. One of the really strong suits of our team is they make in-game adjustments. They listen really well to myself and (assistant) Coach (Mary Alice) Pike. When we ask them to make a change, they go out there right away and make the change.”
In a tremendous second set, there were six lead changes. Kings Mountain appeared poised to go ahead two sets after Orange was whistled for a rotation violation, which they had not been called for all season. That put the Mountaineers ahead 23-20. But Hogue was then called for a foot fault on the subsequent serve. Orange fought off two sets points, the first when Silcott scored on a kill. Jordan ended an epic point with a spike to even the set at 24-24. Another Jordan ruined a third set Kings Mountain set point. Then Jordan scored consecutive kills, including an interminable set point, to secure an incredible 27-25 second set victory.
When Orange defeated Walter Williams on October 11 for its Senior Night, the seniors didn’t have to answer what they would remember most during their careers. That’s because the moment had not arrived yet.
Yet Wimsatt, Porter, Crawford and Deronnette also never imagined their careers would end at Reynolds Coliseum as members of the best Orange volleyball team ever.
They were disappointed in the postgame on Saturday. But they weren’t distraught for one simple reason. They had come closer to reaching a state championship than any other Orange volleyball team ever.
State championship or not, this was a team that accomplished something that all future Orange teams will aim for.
Starting with next year.
If you’re going to win a volleyball regional championship for the first time in your own gym, it might as well be a classic match. That’s what Orange had on Tuesday night when they defeated Carrboro in five sets to win the Eastern Regional Championship in Hillsborough. Sophomore Katie Silcott nearly had a triple-double. The setter/outside hitter finished with 24 assists, 14 digs, seven kills and one block. Sophomore Mariah Poole slammed home a kill to clinch the fourth set. Poole also had two crucial blocks, both of which came late in the fourth set. Sophomore Aubrey Jordan finished with 15 kills, including scoring on match point to set off one of the biggest celebrations inside Orange High Gymnasium ever. Ava Wilkerson, another sophomore, had 13 kills with four blocks. The celebration continued long after Jordan slammed home set point as the Lady Panthers set up a trip to Raleigh to face Kings Mountain for the 3A State Championship. It’s Orange’s first regional title since 2004. It was the first time all year that Orange won a five-set match. It was also the first time that Orange won a match despite trailing by a set this season. The game time between the Panthers and the Mountaineers will be at noon on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum.
I’m never going to grow up. And that’s OK.
On Tuesday night, I sat in the same gym I spent growing up in the late 1980s-early 1990s at Orange High School. Back then, volleyball was still in its formative years. The yearbook from my senior year shows that Orange finished with a 3-19 record. To date myself even more, a team couldn’t score points unless they were serving.
I was getting emotionally wrapped up in basketball games and wrestling matches at Orange inside that gym when I was a teenager.
Fast forward 32 years to this past Tuesday night. And what has changed?
Nothing! Except I was getting emotionally wrapped up in volleyball.
As Orange faced Carrboro for the 3A Eastern Regional Championship, I was still pumped up to see the team from Hillsborough potentially accomplish something that only one volleyball team from my alma mater has doine before: reach the state championship match. I was just as emotionally charged up when Cedar Ridge faced J.H. Rose in each of the past two regional championship games in 2021 and 2022 because I grew up with several of the Red Wolves players’ parents.
I guess that was reflected in the broadcast on Tuesday.
Listening back to the broadcast on Wednesday, that’s an understatement.
When Orange sophomore Katie Silcott scored to set up match point on a soft poke over the net, I couldn’t just label that “a kill” on the air. I had to emphasize the moment. So I drew it out, like Geddy Lee of Rush did leading into the guitar solo on the song “Anthem,” (this reference is nearly 50 years old!).
“killlLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is how it sounded. My lungs had to take the brunt at the expense of the emotion of the moment.
Maybe it isn’t healthy for someone my age to be this emotionally wrapped up into what teenagers play, but it’s why this website is taking up cyberspace. And what better moment to capture for the Orange seniors on Tuesday night? Ella Wimsatt, Sadye Porter, Josie Crawford and Blessiny Deronette truly deserve to play in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh on Saturday at noon. And we’ll be there to broadcast it.
Hopefully, my lungs will have recovered by then.
We’re actually behind with our Magnificent 7, so we’re going back to the week of October 8-October 14 for this edition. We’ll play catch up once things start to slow down next week. Once again, these are the top performance aforementioned week in no particular order.
- Finn Kelly, Orange, Sr.: It was a strong week for Orange men’s soccer. The Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 2-0 in the second leg of the Hillsborough Derby. Kelly, the Orange goalkeeper, may have had the best week of his career. He had a clean sheet against the Red Wolves, followed with another clean sheet against Person and earned the win against Eno River Academy on October 13.
- Rachel Alverson, Cedar Ridge, Sr: On her senior night, Alverson surpassed 1,000 career assists for the Cedar Ridge volleyball team as the Red Wolves defeated Walter Williams 3-0 in Hillsborough. Alverson finished with 35 assists against the Bulldogs as Cedar Ridge wrapped up second place in the Central Carolina Conference.
- Katie Silcott, Orange, Soph.: On her way to 1,000 career assists, Silcott wracked up 27 helpers as the Orange volleyball team defeated Eastern Alamance 3-0 in Mebane. Against Williams in Burlington, Silcott had 21 assists. Silcott is the younger Orange player ever to 1,000 assists.
- Naomi Dyreng, Cedar Ridge, Jr: Another strong finish for Dyreng in the NC Runners Elite Cross Country Invitational in Kernersville on October 14. In a field of 88 runners, Dyreng finished 13th with a time of 20:08.86. Cedar Ridge finished sixth as a team in a quality field of competitors.
- Erinn Sollars, Orange, Sr: Sollars won her final tennis match at Orange on October 10. She defeated Camila Rosa of Eastern Alamance 8-0 at #1 singles. Orange won the match 8-1 to end the dual match season with a winning record.
- Gabriel Schmid, Orange, Sr: Another strong finish for the Orange senior at the NC Runners Elite Cross Country Invitational. He finished second in a field of 153 runners. Only Dawson Reeves of Christ School finished ahead of Schmid. This weekend, Schmid will go for his second career individual state championship, also in Kernersville.
- Joseph Lopez, Orange, Jr.: Scored the game-winning goal for Orange soccer in the overtime win over Cedar Ridge. He followed that with a goal in the 6-0 win over Person.
It’s their time now–Orange volleyball wins 3A Eastern Regional title over Carrboro in five-set classic; faces Kings Mountain for State Championship
The emotion of the moment sank in quickly for Katie Silcott.
The tears of joy wouldn’t stop flowing as the celebration continued around her. After she won the match of her young life inside Orange Gymnasium, there was one fact that remained stuck in her head.
“I’m going to play inside Reynolds Coliseum!” Silcott said to several onlookers.
For Orange’s seniors, there was something else just as gratifying. For the past decade, Orange had been the overlooked team across all of Orange County. In the 2000s, East Chapel Hill won four straight regional championships. Over the past decade, Cedar Ridge, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have all captured state championships.
For seniors Ella Wimsatt, Sadye Porter, Josie Crawford and Blessiny Deronette, it was finally their time.
In possibly the greatest volleyball game ever played inside Orange Gymnasium, Orange defeated Carrboro 3-2 to win the 3A Eastern Regional Championship in front of a packed house on Halloween night. The Lady Panthers will face Kings Mountain on Saturday at noon inside Reynolds Coliseum for the State Championship.
It’s the first time that Orange has played for a state championship in volleyball since 2004. It will mark Orange’s first state championship appearance in any dual-team sport since the wrestling team lost to Piedmont in the 3A State Championship in 2018.
Wimsatt finished with 19 kills and 29 digs, while sophomore Aubrey Jordan had 15 kills. Middle blocker Ava Wilkerson came away with 13 kills and three blocks in a match that was won at the net.
Orange coach Hope Heverly, who played on Orange’s 2004 Eastern Regional championship team, will return to Raleigh as a first-year head coach on Saturday. Heverly replaced Kelly Young, who was in attendance on Tuesday night, in April.
“I knew that these girls had the potential,” Heverly said. “I could see from the start that they had the talent and potential. They just needed a little push and drive. They have really been working hard all season to make this possible.”
It was the third straight five-set battle for Carrboro (29-2), who won at West Carteret and at Cape Fear leading into Tuesday’s classic in Hillsborough.
The Jaguars defeated Orange 3-1 on August 16 at Jaguars Gymnasium.
On Halloween night, Orange had moments where the end of its season appeared near, only to suddenly resurrect itself like Michael Myers in one of the numerous Halloween sequels. Carrboro’s Catherine Rucker, in her final match, finished with 20 kills and two blocks. Setter Rudy Van Gelder had 49 assists.
It was Orange’s depth that ultimately put them in Raleigh. In a match that spanned over two hours, Orange freshman Sawyer White, who was inserted into the starting lineup permanently starting with the Cedar Ridge match on October 18, had a season-best six blocks. Eight Lady Panthers scored points in the fourth set, while Rucker didn’t have another kill after Carrboro’s 12th point in the fourth set.
The irony is Orange lost the Cedar Ridge match where White took on a bigger role, but Heverly made the move to adjust Silcott to provide an additional attacker, while continuing as a setter. It paid dividends on Tuesday night. Silcott registered 26 assists, 20 digs and eight kills. While finished with 25 assists, 30 digs, five kills and seven blocks.
On a night full of turning points, naturally Wimsatt provided the final one. After Rucker knocked down a Wilkerson attack to tie the fourth set at 18-18, Wimsatt scored from the near pole off an assist from White, the first of seven straight Orange points that carried the match into a fifth set. Wimsatt continued the run with an ace to give Orange a 19-18 lead. Jordan had her best run of the night, scoring on a block, then another kill. Leading 22-18, Wimsatt dove headlong on an attack by Carrboro’s Carson McGuire, which led to a spike by Mariah Poole that sent the Orange student section into a complete frenzy. Jordan finished the set with consecutive kills as Orange broached into a fifth set for the first time in any of its 31 matches.
“I knew we would be able to take that energy and help us with the fifth set,” Heverly said. “I also know that Carrboro is a really strong team. They had come back from losing before so I knew that it wasn’t safe. But once Sawyer put up some solid blocks for us to start the fifth, I could quickly see that we had the energy.”
For the only time in the match, Orange won the opening point in the fifth set when Jordan scored off a crosscourt kill that stayed inside the left sideline, then added another. Carrboro tied it up at 3-3 after a block by Caroline Jones, then took its only lead of the frame after an ace from Max Jordy. White quickly tied things with a block, which triggered a decisive 6-0 run that came with senior Josie Crawford serving. Crawford would deliver an ace that landed in front of Jaguars libero Sophia Datto, while White and Poole had consecutive blocks. Another Kill from Wimsatt made it 10-5. Silcott set up the first match point with a light poke that bounced on the white line barely five feet from the net. Jordan ended the night with a spike off a feed from White.
In addition to winning a regional championship, Orange showed its mental toughness after dropping a classic third set, which had eight lead changes and 18 ties. Carrboro had five set points, starting when they were ahead 24-22. White scored on a block for Orange, and a return by Rucker that went long evened it up at 24-24. Orange fought off another set point when McGuire sent a serve into the net. Rucker scored off a kill to make it 26-25, but Wimsatt extended the set. Carrboro ended the struggle when McGuire scored off a block to put Carrboro ahead 28-26.
It was the first time all year that Orange won a match where they trailed by one set.
Orange captured the opening frame 25-20. In another example of Orange’s depth, five different Orange players had kills in its opening seven points. Jordan scored set point off an assist from White.
In the second set, Orange led 12-8 after a kill by Wilkerson. Jordy triggered five straight points to put Carrboro ahead 13-12. Jordy had an ace and a kill in that run. She evened the match with an ace to give the Jaguars the second set 25-21.
Orange principal Jason Jordan and several security guards kept the massive amount of Orange students from rushing the floor. After Athletic Director Jason Knapp presented the regional championship trophy to the Lady Panthers, the students and players joined as one in a joyous celebration that was a long time coming.