Cardinal Gibbons High girls volleyball coach Logan Barber had more than 60 girls report for tryouts last year. The vast majority, more than 50, have played volleyball on a year-round basis for several years.
“I don’t know of another program that has a situation like this,” Barber said. “That’s a lot of talent. That’s really the key to our success. When you have eight Catholic middle schools feeding one school, you get a lot of talent.”
Cardinal Gibbons (21-2 last year), one of three nonboarding parochial schools in the NCHSAA, entered the N.C. High School Athletic Association in 2005 and won the NCHSAA 2A championship that year.
The title was the first of seven that the Crusaders have won in their eight years in the NCHSAA. Counting their seasons in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association, the Crusaders have been in the state finals 15 consecutive years and have won 13 state titles.
They have won 35 of their 36 matches in the NCHSAA playoffs, including a five-game loss to West Henderson in the 2008 2A finals.
“I know a lot of girls who played in the 2008 finals and they still say it was one of the most disappointing days of their lives,” Barber said. “They are girls who went on in college and played in some big games. But they still remember that loss.”
The loss has become one of several motivating factors for Gibbons. No other senior class wants to be the group that fails to win the title.
The Crusaders graduated much of their size from last year and probably will be shorter than in some past years, but returns eight players who were a part of the 21-3-0 club’s nucleus. The team lost only four of its 16 varsity players to graduation.
Senior setters Erin Quinn and Cheyenne Wood lead the veterans along with 6-foot sophomore Briley Brind’Amour, the daughter of former NHL Carolina Hurricanes player Ron Brind’Amour. Briley Brind’Amour played on the varsity team last year as a freshman and made major contributions, including 15 kills in the championship win over Jesse Carson. Senior libero Bianca Garner had 13 digs in the finals.
Amy Robertson is another senior veteran and sophomores Juliane Peterson and Mia Fradenburg and junior Meghan Wilkinson also are back.
Cross Country: The Crusaders girls’ cross country team, which has won the last three state titles and seven in the last eight years, is ranked third in the state by NCrunners.com among all classifications. The Crusader boys, who have won the last two 3A state titles, are ranked sixth.
Both teams are the top-ranked NCHSAA 3A schools, meaning a sweep could be in order for the third straight year.
The Crusaders girls bring back three of the state’s top 25 runners in Mary Grace Doggett, Sophie Ebihara and Rachel Bartolomeo. Laura Hart, Amanda Wiggenhorn, Kitty Gibbons and Maddie Smith are expected to add depth.
The Crusaders boys return four runners – Jake Zawada, David Edwards, Cody Nagy and J.T. Klimek – whose best times last year were under 17 minutes. Chase McCord, Anthony Cortina and Ethan Lund aren’t far behind.
Boys soccer: The Crusaders were 17-5-1, losing in the 3A East final to Jacksonville. They will be without N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year Ade Taiwo, a senior who tore his ACL during the summer. Gibbons loses four of its top four goal-scorers, but it brings back senior Matt Springer (9 goals, 2 assists), defender Chase Rhode and goalkeeper Luke Deacon.
Girls tennis: The Crusaders (19-7) were the NCHSAA 3A runner-up in 2010, 3A champion in 2012 and reached the NCHSAA 3A semifinals last year. Gibbons lost to Nash Central 5-1 in semifinals. Junior Devin Knors reached the quarterfinals of the 3A singles championships, and classmate Natalie Freeman qualified in the state 3A doubles competition.
Girls golf: Cardinal Gibbons is coming off a third-place finish in the 3A girls’ golf state championships and will be powered by the return of juniors Caroline O’Neill and Ellen Smith.
Field hockey: The Crusaders will have its first varsity field hockey team this year. Field hockey is not sanctioned by the N.C. High School Athletic Association, but some NCHSAA teams hold their own state championship.
Staff Writer J. Mike Blake contributed.