Month: November 2023

Volleyball Alumni Update: Altieri honored as Salisbury wins Coast-to-Coast Conference title

Julie Altieri: For the first time since 2012, the Salisbury Seagulls won the Coast-to-Coast Conference Tournament championship. On Saturday, Salisbury defeated Mary Washington 3-2 on scores of 25-20, 23-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-13. Altieri, a freshman, was named to the All-Tournament team. Altieri had 49 assists, 15 digs, seven kills and one ace in the championship match. With the win, the Seagulls have reached the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 11th time in program history and the second time in as many years. In the semifinals on Friday, Salisbury defeated Christopher Newport 3-1 at the Maggs Physical Activities Center (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-21). Altieri, who became the starting setter about one-third of the way into the season, finished with 36 assists, 13 digs, two aces and one kill. Salisbury is 20-7 going into the NCAA Tournament.

Lottie Scully: The Binghamton Bearcats ended its regular season with a 3-0 loss to the University of New Hampshire on Sunday (25-22, 25-20, 25-19) at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, NH. Scully finished with 29 assists, nine digs and two kills. On November 8, the Bearcats defeated Manhattan College 3-1 at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale, NY. Scully came away with 43 assists, nine digs, two kills, and two aces. Binghamton concludes the regular season 14-12, 6-4 in the America East Conference. Binghamton will face New Hampshire for the America East Championshp on Friday in Baltimore.

Cameron Lanier: Elon ended its season with a 3-1 loss to Delaware at the Schar Center on Sunday. Lanier finished with six kills and five digs. The Blue Hens prevailed on scores of 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 and 27-25. On Saturday, Delaware swept the Phoenix 3-0 (25-16, 26-24, 25-22). Lanier played in two sets and had one kill and one dig. Elon swept a two-match series from Hampton on October 28 and 29, it’s only wins in the Coastal Athletic Association this season. On October 28, the Phoenix won 3-0 at the Schar Center. Lanier had seven kills and six digs. On October 29, the Phoenix defeated the Pirates 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-14). Lanier was tied with the team lead with ten kills, along with two digs and one block. Elon finished 5-22 overall, 2-16 in the CAA. Lanier finished her freshman season second on the team with 221 kills. The only player with more was Sydney Love, a junior who had 230. She also had six blocks.

Cameron Lloyd: The Bucknell Bison ended its regular season with a loss to American University 3-0 inside Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Lloyd had four kills, 12 digs and three aces. On November 5, the Bison defeated in-state rival Lehigh 3-1 at Davis Gymnasium in Lewisburg, PA. Lloyd provided a strong second option for the Bison. She finished with ten kills, along with ten digs and three aces. On November 4, Bucknell swept Lafayette 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-16). Lloyd had seven kills, eight digs and two aces. Lehigh will start play in the Patriot League Tournament against Navy on Tuesday at Davis Gymnasium.

Grace Young: UNC Asheville ended its season with a 3-1 win over USC Upstate at the Justice Center in Asheville on Saturday. Young played in all four sets and finished with seven digs and four assists. On November 4, Gardner-Webb defeated the Bulldogs at the Justice Center. Young played in one set and had three digs, one assist and one ace. UNC Asheville finished with an 8-20 overall record, 2-12 in the Big South. For her freshman year, Young played in 46 sets and had 52 digs and 12 aces.

Allie Wilkerson: The season ended for Division III Averett University in the semifinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference on Thursday. Randolph-Macon defeated the Cougars 3-1 (21-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-16) at Crenshaw Gymnasium in Ashland, VA. Wilkerson had one kill and two blocks for Averett. In the quarterfinals, Averett defeated Bridgewater 3-1 at Niniger Hall in Bridgewater, VA (17-25, 27-25, 25-15, 25-22). Wilkerson had five kills, one dig and one ace. Averett ends the season 14-17, 7-5 in the ODAC. This season, Wilkerson was third on the team with 153 kills. She had 16 aces and 44 digs.

Melissa Benkowitz: The season of Division III Franklin & Marshall ended in the semifinals of the Centennial Conference Tournament. Gettysburg edged the Diplomats 3-2 (25-18, 17-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-10). Benkowitz had two digs in her only set of action. In the quarterfinals, Franklin & Marshall defeated Muhlenburg 3-1 (25-23, 25-7, 22-25, 25-20). Benkowitz, in her freshman season, played in 12 of the Diplomats 26 matches. She had 61 kills in 33 sets.

Katie Belle Goes to Athens; Sikes signs swimming scholarship with Georgia

Before she could even form coherent thoughts, Katie Belle Sikes seemed to know she was born to be a swimmer before everyone else did.

When she was three years old, Sikes somehow eluded her parents attention and jumped off the diving board at her grandparents swimming pool. With no hesitation, she plopped herself into the deep end while she tried to reach a nearby ladder, where her brother was stationed.

The fact she had not learned how to swim yet didn’t stop her, though it did leave her parents horrified.

Yet before they could jump in the water, Katie Belle popped up from underneath and reached the wall much to everyone’s relief.

It was a harbinger of things to come.

On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of workouts at the Orange County Sportsplex, dozens of trips with travel teams and high school competitions all led to a ceremony at Orange High School’s Gymnasium. It’s where Sikes formally signed with the Georgia Bulldogs, where she verbally committed last fall.

Georgia, a seven-time NCAA National Champion in women’s swimming, is home to Gabrielsen Natatorium, where Sikes first competed in middle school.

Katie Belle was accompanied in the signing ceremony by her parents Kristin and Thomas Sikes, along with her coaches Rob and Kristie Geib.

“I have so many emotions right now,” Sikes said. “I’m extremely excited. I have so many emotions for so many people. Swimming in Garbielsen Natatorium was very intimidating when I was in eighth grade, but also super exciting to be swimming in a poll where so many national titles had been won.”

Sikes quickly established herself during a freshman year that was anything but typical. In the pandemic year of 2021, she found herself practicing in reduced lanes due to COVID restrictions. She didn’t have one in-person class as a freshman. Sikes won the first of her six regional championships in the 50 yard freestyle at the Greensboro Aquatic Center and finished second in the 3A State Championships behind Olivia Rhodes of Charlotte Catholic.

As a freshman, she was named the Big 8 Conference Female Swimmer of the Year.

In 2022, she became the first female swimmer in Orange High history to win a state championship when she finished 1st with a time of 23.24 seconds.

The 2023 State Championships at the Cary Aquatic Center may have been the greatest singular athletic performance in the history of Orange High School. Sikes won two individual state championships. She set a new state record, regardless of classification, in the 50 yard freestyle at 22.17 seconds. It was the tenth-fastest time ever recorded by a high school athlete nationally, earning her automatic All-American status. She also set the 3A State Record in the 100 yard freestyle at 49.45 seconds, her first state title in the event.

Sikes swam the anchor leg for the 200 yard freestyle team with Riley White, Piper White and Ainsley Rasinske, which became the first relay team to win a state championship in Hillsborough history.

As a junior, she was named the Most Outstanding Female Swimmer of the 3A State Championships.

Of course, Sikes still has a senior year starting later this month. It wouldn’t be a campaign without new goals to aim for to complete a career that’s already firmly entrenched into the Orange High Hall of Fame.

“Last year, our freestyle medley relay was just shy of a state championship,” Sikes said. “I would really like to close out the season bringing both of our relay teams to state championships. I also would like to set another record in the 50 yard freestyle and another record in the 100-yard freestyle.”

Last summer, Sikes was named the HighSchoolOT. com Female Swimmer of the Year. She is a three-time USA Swimming Scholastic All-American. She has a 4.0 grade point average.

The Magnificent 7, Week 10: Farewell to a joyous Fall

When you pull into Reynolds Coliseum on the first Saturday in November, you know one of the teams you’re covering has done something right.

Two years ago, the Cedar Ridge volleyball team was that squad. Last Saturday, it was Orange volleyball’s turn.

And what a day it was. Not just in Raleigh, but also in Kernersville. Gabriel Schmid ended the most accomplished cross country career in Orange High history with a first-place finish at the 3A State Championships at the Ivey Redmon Sports Complex. The only regret I have on the day was that Orange volleyball’s state championship match against Kings Mountain started at noon. Originally, the match was slated to start at 7, which would have allowed a lot of Orange officials to make a full day out of it.

Orange cross country competed for the state title on Saturday morning. They had the best finish of any Orange team ever in a state championship, finishing second behind Croatan.

It was a memorable fall on so many levels. The Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team nearly became the first soccer team in Hillsborough history to win a conference championship. They were one win away. For the first time ever, the Orange men’s soccer team reached the state playoffs in back-to-back years.

Cedar Ridge volleyball captured the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship. For a squad that lost eight seniors, including the top two attackers in school history in Cameron Lloyd and Cameron Lanier, along with Julie Altieri, Melissa Benkowitz and Anaya Carter, they still banded together to win a conference title. Cedar Ridge was the only team to beat Orange in Panther Gymnasium this year, something that J.H. Rose, Carrboro or Falls Lake couldn’t do.  Cedar Ridge’s senior class, which includes Greylinn Serge, Rachel Alverson, Addie Reid and Natasha Buchler-Fosado, will have a lot to look back on and smile about in the future.

Let’s go back to October 15-21 for this week’s Magnificent 7, the top seven performances from the week in no particular order.

  1. Claire Hargett, Soph. Cedar Ridge: A mammoth performance against Orange in the CCC Tournament championship match. Hargett had a season-high 24 kills as the Red Wolves pulled the upset against Orange. The Red Wolves were the only team in the CCC to beat Orange this year. Cedar Ridge claimed a share of a conference title for the fourth straight year.
  2. Naomi Dyreng, Jr. Cedar Ridge: Dyreng won the CCC women’s cross country individual championship on October 18. Dyreng crossed the finish line at 21:50.18. Her teammate, Abigail Klaitman, came in second at 22:00.56. Cedar Ridge finished second as a team, only behind Walter Williams.
  3. Myles Jermyn, Jr. Orange: While Schmid won the conference championship for Orange men’s cross country, his teammate made sure the Panthers captured the team championship for the third year in a row. Jermyn came in second at 17:37.41. Jermyn’s father is the cross country coach at Elon University. The Orange athletic program has already won two conference championships and two regional championships this year.
  4. Erik Galunas, Soph, Cedar Ridge: The Cedar Ridge goalkeeper had a tremendous clean sheet during a scoreless tie against Western Alamance on October 16. Galunas made eight saves. Afterward, head coach Chauncey Brummell thought Galunas played well enough to get signed by a professional academy. He wasn’t joking.
  5. Annabeth Lundberg, Sr. Cedar Ridge: Lundberg won two matches for the Cedar Ridge women’s tennis team in its victory over Orange in the opening round of the 3A State Dual Team Playoffs. Lundberg won at #6 singles, then teamed with Raven Mowles-Airing to win at #3 doubles as the Red Wolves edged the Lady Panthers 5-4 to advance to the second round.
  6. Katie Silcott, Soph. Orange: Had 14 digs and 38 assists against Western Alamance in the CCC Tournament semifinals. Silcott surpassed 1,000 assists for the 2023 season during the 3A State Playoffs, which could very well be a single-season school record. She surpassed 1,000 assists for her career in the final week of the regular season. Is another 1,000 assist season possible for 2024? Orange returns outside hitter Aubrey Jordan and Ava Wilkerson next year. And, likely, in 2025, as well.
  7. Shannon Sollars, Jr. Orange: A strong finish to the season for Sollars. She won both of her matches in Orange’s final dual match of the season against Cedar Ridge. Sollars defeated Ella Caltabiano at #2 singles 6-3, 6-0. She teamed with her sister, Erinn, one final time in a dual match to defeat Cameron Mayhew and Adeline Cummings 9-8 (7-5 tiebreaker).

Alumni Update: Davidson-Smith wins gold medal at Pan American Games

Mia Davidson-Smith: The United States women’s national softball team won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Santiago, Chile on Saturday. The Americans defeated Puerto Rico 7-0 in the gold medal game. The U.S. didn’t surrender more than three runs in any of its six games and outscored its opposition 60-8. Davidson-Smith hit a home run in an 18-0 win over Chile run in the Americans opening 18-0 win over Chile. She had a pinch-hit homer in the second inning. Davidson-Smith played in the Americans 8-3 win over Canada last Friday. She scored a run in the U.S. 7-0 victory over Mexico after she drew a walk pinch-hitting for Erin Coffell, who played at Kentucky. Davidson started against Venezuela and went 0-for-1 with a walk. The trip to Chile was the latest international journey for Davidson-Smith. Last spring, she played in Dublin, Ireland for the United States in the World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup, where the Americans also took gold.

Trenton Gill: The Chicago Bears lost to the New Orleans Saints 24-17 at the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome on Sunday. Gill had two punts for an average of 47.5 yards. His longest punt was 49 yards. The Bears are 2-7 and will face the Carolina Panthers at Solider Field on Thursday night.

Payton Wilson: Wilson was named the ACC Linebacker of the Week for N.C. State after the Wolfpack defeated Clemson 24-17 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Wilson returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Wolfpack ahead 17-7. Wilson finished with eight tackles with one-and-a-half tackles for loss. N.C. State defeated Miami 20-6 last weekend in Raleigh. Wilson led the team with 16 tackles, had two pass breakups and two quarterback hits. He also had a tackle for loss. Through eight games, Wilson leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, pass breakups, quarterback hits, and fumble recoveries. He also is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.

Darius Satterfield: The Elizabeth City State football team ended its season with a 38-20 win over Bluefield State University last weekend. Satterfield averaged 33.5 yards per punt over four attempts. One was downed inside the 20-yard line. His longest punt was 45 yards. On October 21, the Vikings upset Virginia State 17-16 on the road at Rogers Stadium. Satterfield averaged 38.2 yards on four punts. One was downed inside the 20-yard line. He had one touchback. The Vikings finished the year 3-7. This season, Satterfield averaged 36.4 yards per punt on 43 punts. He had three punts of over 50 yards.

Braxton Mergenthal: The Hampden-Sydney football team claimed a thrilling 26-25 win in overtime over Shenandoah in its home finale on Saturday. It was the final home game for Hampden-Sydney head coach Marty Favret, who is retiring after 24 years. Mergenthal finished with one tackle. Hampden-Sydney has a chance to make the Division III playoffs. They go into its regular season finale at Randolph-Macon this weekend with a 6-3 record.

Ivy Garner: The Liberty women’s soccer team won the Conference USA Tournament championship last week. The Flames defeated New Mexico State 2-1 at Robert Mack Caruthers Field in Ruston, LA. Garner started and played 56 minutes, firing one shot on goal. Last Friday, the Flames defeated Louisiana Tech 4-0 in the semifinals. Garner started and played 64 minutes for the Flames. She had three shots. Liberty will face #3 Georgia in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Emerson Talley: The Division II Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team remains undefeated as they go into the semifinals of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament. The Bears finished the SAC regular season champions after beating #4 Catawba 2-1 in Salisbury on November 1. Talley started and played 90 minutes. She fired one shot. On Sunday, Lenoir-Rhyne defeated Mars Hill 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the SAC Tournament. Talley started and played the first half. The Bears won its home finale over Lincoln Memorial 2-0 at Moretz Sports Complex in Hickory. Talley started and played 81 minutes. Lenoir-Rhyne will face Carson-Newman in the semifinals on Friday morning in Matthews.

The Long Run–Orange’s Schmid wins second 3A Cross Country State Championship, Orange men finish 2nd overall

The old saying at the Masters every April is “the tournament doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.”

At the 3A State Cross Country state championship on Saturday, the event didn’t start on the first mile.

As far as Gabriel Schmid was concerned, it started on the second. The other 166 runners didn’t find out until it was too late.

The first mile, Schmid played it easy running with the group, hanging back just a bit. When the second mile started, several months worth of training kicked in.

“The plan was to kick in and roll for the second mile,” Schmid said. “Just bang mile after mile and we did that. That’s the pace we had run all season. It was a strategy we developed. When you go into these bigger races, anything can happen. It can be totally running all out as a team and make it a full sprint, then just die around the finish line. Or it can be we run the first mile in five minutes, take the second mile in 4:55, then lay the hammer down in the final mile. You have to be prepared for either one.”

Schmid’s instincts, along with his team, proved correct once again at the Ivey Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville on Saturday.

Schmid won the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A Men’s State Cross County Championship for the second year in a row, crossing the finish line at 15:14.75. The runner-up, Tyrese Cone of Croatan, came in 33 seconds behind Schmid at 15:48.42.

In his final cross country race for Orange in an NCHSAA-sanctioned event, Schmid improved on his time from last year’s state championship race. And he won by a wider margin. In 2022, Schmid completed the 3.1-mile course in 15:44.28, beating Stephen Fernetti of North Lincoln in 16 seconds.

Schmid became just the fourth runner in the history of Orange County to win back-to-back individual state championships. Orange’s Bradsher Wilkins won consecutive state crowns at the 4A level in 1997-1998. Cedar Ridge’s A.J. Tucker is the only Red Wolf to ever win a state cross country championship, winning the 2A titles in 2011 and 2012. Taylor Gilland of Chapel Hill captured the 4A championships in 2007 & 2008.

As a team, Orange had its best-ever finish in a state championship meet, finishing runner-up to defending state champion Croatan. The Panthers registered 93 points. Croatan claimed its second straight team crown with 67 points. Orange’s team of Lucas Van Mater, Alden Cathey, Myles Jermyn, Peter Musser, Nolan Hufner, and Cyrus Neal won the Mideast Regional Championship at Franklinton High School, its second regional crown in three years.

Cedar Ridge sophomore Ryan Matthews qualified for the state championships for the second consecutive year. He crossed the finish line at 17:49.52, finishing 93rd overall.

Schmid, who completed a run on Saturday night after winning his second state championship, was confident in his chances to earn another individual crown. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Schmid competed in the American Ninja Warrior while living in Longmont, Colorado in middle school. He ran in the Junior World Championships in Minneapolis and New Mexico while living in Vancouver, Washington before his family moved to Hillsborough four years ago.

Schmid now has three individual state championships overall. He also won the 3,200 meters in the 3A State Outdoor Track and Field Championships at North Carolina A&T University last May. In addition to two individual cross country regional championships, he also won two Mideast Regional titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters last May at Franklinton. He finished second in the state championships in the 1,600 meters.

“Obviously, I’ve taken running a lot farther than any of those sports,” Schmid said. “The will to be the best at something or set a goal for something that won’t come overnight. That’s what makes me tick. If I can’t have it tomorrow, then I’m going to work for it.”

Yet just two years ago, cross country wasn’t his only fall sport. He was also a men’s soccer player for Orange under head coach Palmer Bowman.

“My mom sat me down and told me I needed to choose between one or the other,” Schmid said. “I was a whole lot better at running than I was at soccer.”

At the Great American Cross Country Festival in Cary, Schmid broke 16-minutes for the first time. That’s when he decided to leave soccer behind.

“Coach Bowman was very supportive,” Schmid said.

Six months later, Schmid finished second in the 3,200 meters in the State Outdoor Championships.

In addition to running, Schmid also volunteers for the Efland Fire Department, where he’s frequently on call. There’s training on Thursday night. Out of the department’s 700 calls in 2022, Schmid ran 203 of them.

The entire Cedar Ridge team qualified for the women’s race. As a squad, the Red Wolves finished 12th out of 18 teams. Naomi Dyreng, the Central Carolina Conference individual champion, was the highest Red Wolf finisher, coming in 17th at 19:43.71. Junior Abigail Klaitman finished 47th (20:44.40), while freshman Kate Finnegan crossed the finish line in 113th place (22:51.32). Cedar Ridge junior Anna Peterson finished 130th (23:46.44), while freshman Safiyya Frej came in 141st (25:00.05). Another Red Wolf freshman, Samantha Quade, finished 146th. Freshman Grace Whitaker came in 148th (25:45.02).




Be a Rock Star–Orange volleyball made the rounds leading up to the state championships

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.”

Queen’s Mountain–Mountaineers hold off Orange volleyball 3-2 to win 3A State Championship

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.