High School Sports

Chapel Hill falls in a heartbreaking NCHSAA 3A volleyball championship

Kaya Merkler (14) of Chapel Hill spikes the ball over the defense from Meredith Patterson, center, and Savannah Stewart (20) of North Iredell. The Chapel Hill Tigers played the North Iredell Raiders in the 3A NCHSAA volleyball final that took place at the N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, November 4, 2017. North Iredell won 3-2.
Kaya Merkler (14) of Chapel Hill spikes the ball over the defense from Meredith Patterson, center, and Savannah Stewart (20) of North Iredell. The Chapel Hill Tigers played the North Iredell Raiders in the 3A NCHSAA volleyball final that took place at the N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday, November 4, 2017. North Iredell won 3-2. newsobserver.com

Chapel Hill fell to North Iredell 3-2 (11-25, 25-16, 25-18, 27-29, 15-12) in a thrilling – but heartbreaking – N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A volleyball final on Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.

It was the second straight year the Tigers had appeared in the championship match, falling to Cox Mill a year ago.

“It’s unfortunate that (our seniors) don’t get to head out with a gold-colored medal,” Chapel Hill coach Ross Fields said. “But ... from being 12-13 (overall) two years ago and more of the same the previous year, to back-to-back state finals is still a pretty good turnaround.”

The second time around was more gut-wrenching, but Fields and the Tigers were proud of their effort.

Chapel Hill (25-7) dominated the first set, jumping out to an 11-1 lead and never looking back. But the Raiders (28-2), who had taken down an assortment of powerhouses in the West bracket to reach the final, overcame the stage fright to even the match after two.

Chapel Hill fell behind 2-1 in the match, then won a marathon fourth set 29-27, fighting off championship point four times.

“We have this really good team relationship, where we build each other up when we make mistakes, and that allows us to come back like in that fourth set,” said senior Nadiya Farrington. “We were able to continue to fight, building off each other, to try to save the game.”

The Tigers led 11-8 in the fifth set and had not trailed, but North Iredell went on a 7-1 run to close out the title, sending its crowd into a frenzy.

Much like last year’s team, this one came into the championship having won on the road in tough environments during its playoff run. Its strength of schedule from the regular season, once again, had prepared it well.

Of Chapel Hill’s seven losses, five were to teams in Saturday’s state championship matches, and one – Cardinal Gibbons – lost in the 4A East final.

“We went out and found the toughest schedule of people that were willing to play us,” Fields said. “MaxPreps said we were the fifth-best team in the Eastern side of the state, and we proved that wrong. Ask the teams we were able to beat on the road.”

The future is bright for the Tigers, who graduate only two players from this year’s group.

Sophomore Kaya Merkler had 29 kills and 13 digs in the match. Classmate Samantha Breschi had 42 assists.

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