APA advances to second straight volleyball state championship
Arendell Parrott’s Alli Grant Avery goes up for one of her 15 kills in Tuesday’s win over Cary Christian to propel the Patriots to the NCISAA finals. Photo by William “Bud” Hardy / Neuse News
For the second straight year, Parrott Academy will be playing for an NCISAA volleyball championship.
The big difference: instead of having to travel nearly three hours for the title match as they did last season, this time the Patriots get to stay at home.
“It’s amazing that we get a chance to finish what we started on our own court,” said APA coach David Barnes after his team knocked off Cary Christian 3-1 (25-16, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22). “We lost several outstanding players to graduation, so at the beginning of the season nobody expected us to get this far. But these kids kept fighting, kept believing, kept finding a way to get it done. A state championship will be an incredible, well-deserved surprise for these girls.”
Parrott will host Caldwell Academy (23-5) Saturday at 6 p.m. for the title. APA defeated the Eagles in a 5-set marathon back on August 13.
“They (Caldwell) were my preseason pick to win it all,” Barnes said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
As has been the case all season for the undefeated Patriots (20-0), advancing to the title match didn’t come easy.
After cruising to a 25-16 victory in the first set, APA found itself in a dogfight the rest of the way against the talented Knights (20-3).
The Patriots came back from a 20-16 deficit to win the second set, fell by two points in the third game, and then barely held on to clinch the win after leading 19-11 in the fourth set.
“We’ve been the cardiac kids all season,” Barnes said. “We’re undefeated but it hasn’t been a cakewalk. We’ve been challenged most nights, and this was no exception. Cary Christian has an outstanding team. We knew they would make it tough.”
All three of the Knights’ losses came at the hands of the Patriots, all by 3-1 scores that could’ve gone either way.
Parrott also defeated Cary Christian is last year’s state semifinals.
“Having beaten them twice already this season, I was really worried heading into this match,” Barnes said. “Winning three times against a team is always difficult, especially one as good as they are.”
Barnes needn’t have worried.
With junior outside hitters Alli Grant Avery and Mackenzie Pope leading the way as they have all season, APA seemed in control even when they weren’t.
Avery finished with 15 kills, including 6 in the final set alone. Her final kill sent APA to its second consecutive championship match after the Knights had trimmed an 8-point deficit to just one.
“It’s exciting that we get to play for the championship again,” Avery said. “Our team has worked really hard and probably exceeded expectations. I can’t wait for Saturday night.”
Pope added 11 kills and had a pair of service aces for APA.
She came up particularly big in game two as the Patriots rallied from 4 points behind to seize a 2-0 lead in the match.
With her team trailing 20-17, Pope took the team on her back with a pair of kills, a key block, and a beautifully executed dink that gave APA a lead it wouldn’t relinquish in the set.
“This team doesn’t know when to quit,” Barnes said. “That’s why they’re such a joy to coach. We have one more hurdle to climb. It’s a long season, but it doesn’t matter where you start. It only matters where you finish.”
Photos by William “Bud” Hardy / Neuse News