High School Sports

As Green Hope prepares for historic run, Falcons playing loose down the stretch

Green Hope players celebrate a point against the Hillside Hornets in a high school volleyball game on October 16, 2019. Green Hope is seeking a fourth consecutive NCHSAA championship.
Green Hope players celebrate a point against the Hillside Hornets in a high school volleyball game on October 16, 2019. Green Hope is seeking a fourth consecutive NCHSAA championship. newsobserver.com

Team chemistry is one thing, but designated cheers for most of the players on your team is another. The Green Hope volleyball team has advanced to the latter.

When Iowa State commit Alexis Engelbrecht gets a block, her teammates on the bench stand and spin around in a circle, imitating a Cyclone. When East Carolina commit Priscilla Jones gets a kill, the team sits and rows an imaginary boat — complete with a few Pirate-esque “arghs.”

Maryland commit Sydney Dowler, who missed a few games with an ankle injury, has been the leader of such antics over the past week. Now that she’s back on the court, though, she’s looking forward to seeing what the bench has in store for her.

“They’re planning to curl up in a turtle shell,” Dowler said with a laugh. “Or something like that.”

As the Falcons (20-2, 12-0 Triangle 8) wrap up another dominant regular season and gear up for a run at their fourth consecutive NCHSAA 4A state title, they’re undoubtedly having fun.

It’s a reflection, Dowler said, of the team’s vow to embrace every moment, big or small, during this 2019 season — which is the last for a majority of the roster. Green Hope has eight seniors, including Dowler, Engelbrecht and Jones, along with six juniors and no underclassmen.

“I’m kind of having those moments,” Engelbrecht said Tuesday after a 3-0 win at Hillside. “We only have one more home game, one more away game before playoffs. It’s crazy. I can’t believe it.”

Green Hope, the No. 5 team in the country according to MaxPreps, hasn’t lost to an in-state team this season. In late August, the Falcons pulled out a huge 3-2 win over North Raleigh Christian Academy, which has won four consecutive NCISAA titles and is ranked 20th by MaxPreps.

The Falcons also swept their rival, Panther Creek, in two meetings — which were a rematch of the 2018 4A championship match Green Hope won in straight sets.

The only two blemishes on the Falcons’ résumé so far came at the midseason Louisville Volleyball Invitational Tournament. There, they lost to Mater Dei (California) and Assumption (Kentucky), two teams among the country’s top 15. But as coach Karl Redelfs noted, they also won three on that road trip.

“We played some good matches, had some good competition, were able to fight pretty well with some pretty good teams,” he said. “That kind of showed up as, ‘Hey, we can really hang with some of the best teams.’ That really helped our confidence.”

According to NCHSAA records, three teams in North Carolina history across all classifications have won four consecutive state championships: Jordan from 1983-86, Hendersonville from 1997-2000 and Cardinal Gibbons from 2009-12.

Dowler, the MVP of Green Hope’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 championship matches, said she’s made an intentional effort to remain grounded — in spite of her team’s chance to join that exclusive club next month.

“My biggest fear is if we do relax too much,” she said. “I think the biggest part is staying humble and realizing anybody can beat anybody on any given day. … We just have to stay on our toes, ready, grinding every practice because anything could happen at any moment, especially in states.”

Engelbrecht, her teammate, agreed and said she relishes such high expectations as the playoffs approach.

“I love that pressure,” she said. “I love walking into a gym like, ‘Wow, they’re going to work their butt off to beat us, so we have to work even harder.’ ”