Tiny Ridgecroft makes big waves

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

AHOSKIE – One of the smallest schools in the Roanoke-Chowan area is making the biggest noise when it comes to athletic notoriety on the statewide level.

During the fall sports season, Ridgecroft School sent three of athletic teams to NCISAA (North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association) tournaments. All three finished in the top four of the state’s elite teams. In addition, one Ridgecroft student earned an individual state championship plaque while another finished as a state runner-up.

After rallying from a slow start, coach Dave Rowzie’s varsity soccer team played well down the stretch and earned a top-four seed in the NCISAA Class 1A tournament. The Rams edged Gaston Day School, 3-2, in the quarterfinals, earning a berth in the prestigious Final Four. There, Ridgecroft fell to Greenfield School, the eventual state champion, in the semifinals. Greenfield is now the five-time defending state champs.

&uot;A lot of people wrote us off in the early part of the season, but they failed to realize that this team had the heart of a lion,&uot; noted Rowzie. &uot;They picked themselves up after our slow start and went about their business of winning games. The reward for that outstanding effort was a top four berth in the state tournament and a top four finish, the best in the history of our soccer program here at Ridgecroft.&uot;

After posting just two wins last year, Ridgecroft’s tennis team finished 6-5 during the 2003 regular season, a record that advanced the squad to the NCISAA state tournament held Oct. 24-25 at Barton College in Wilson. There, the Lady Rams finished third among the 13 teams.

In addition, freshman Kristen Cayton, competing as the number three seed, stormed through the field en route to capturing an individual state championship. Ranked number one in the 13-member field, Cayton dropped only four sets en route to her singles title. She defeated, in order, Ashley Smith of Wayne Christian (6-0, 6-0), Elizabeth Cook of Waccamaw Academy (6-0, 6-1) and Sara Peters of Greenfield School (6-1, 6-2).

In the number six singles bracket, second-seeded Megan Groninger made it to the final round where she was edged 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) by top-seeded Meredith Moore of Greenfield School. Along the way to the finals, Groninger, a freshman, hammered out wins over Mary Ashley Craver of Trinity Academy (6-0, 6-0) and Anna Mayo of Rocky Mount Academy (6-3, 6-3).

Brittany Taylor, a junior, made it to the semifinal round, as did each of Ridgecroft’s trio of doubles teams – #1 Loftin Johnson and Landis Joyner; #2 Cayton and Taylor; and #3 Whitney Pilson and Groninger.

&uot;We have no seniors on this team, so our future looks really bright for next season,&uot; said Ridgecroft tennis coach Becky Johnson, a parent volunteer. &uot;A third place overall finish plus the fact that we had so many of our young ladies advance deep into their individual brackets, including one that earned a state championship and another that finished as the runner-up, bodes really well for us when it boils down to the experience factor at this high level of competition.&uot;

However, what coach Johnson really likes about this team is their attitude.

&uot;My girls do not take the sport of tennis as a cut-throat type of sport,&uot; she noted. &uot;They are appreciative of the opposition’s talent level. They made plenty of friends with the members of the other teams while at the state tournament. That’s what it’s all about, not all about winning at whatever the cost, but expanding themselves socially.&uot;

For only the third time in her career, veteran Ridgecroft School varsity volleyball coach Nancy Brittenham guided one of her teams into the state tournament. The 2003 event will go down in Brittenham’s &uot;book&uot; as one of the most remarkable performances.

Seeded 14th in the 16-team NCISAA field, the Lady Rams stunned tournament host and third-seeded Wayne Country Day School (25-16, 25-14, 21-25, 25-20) in opening round action. &uot;Cinderella&uot; Ridgecroft then upset sixth-seeded Northwood Temple Academy (25-14, 25-18, 20-25, 23-25, 17-15) in a five-set thriller to gain a berth in the prestigious NCISAA Final Four. There, the Lady Rams lost to conference rival Albemarle School (25-17, 25-17, 25-17).

&uot;We went into this year’s tournament with the mindset of, hey, we’re a 14-seed, what have we got to lose,&uot; said Brittenham. &uot;These girls do not know the word quit. They kept battling for each and every point, just like it would be the final point, won or lost, of the season. That’s why we were as successful as we were this year.&uot;

Brittenham also credited her team’s togetherness and their excellent transition from offense to defense as major factors in this year’s success story.

&uot;Playing in a strong conference also helped when we got to this high level of competition,&uot; she noted.

The Lady Rams finished 5-5 in league play (8-6 overall) during the 2003 campaign. Junior middle hitter Jessica Misse earned All-Conference and All-Tournament honors. Senior setter Kathryn Vick was an Honorable Mention All-Conference selection.

The future looks bright for the Ridgecroft volleyball program as the school’s junior varsity squad finished the 2003 season with a 14-1 overall record. They were conference regular season co-champions (with a 10-1 record) and went on to sweep the conference tournament championship by defeating Lawrence Academy (25-9, 20-25, 15-9) and Pungo Christian Academy (25-23, 25-19).

Outside hitter April Piland was named as the Tournament MVP. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by setter Jo Revelle Murray. Setter Lauren Lilley and Murray were Ridgecroft’s first-team All-Conference selections. Named as Honorable Mention choices were middle hitter Megan Coker and outside hitter Shirley Lee Spruill.

&uot;We had a great fall sports season here at Ridgecroft School, an effort we hope continues for the remainder of our athletic season,&uot; said Doug Cobbs, the school’s veteran Athletic Director. &uot;I’ve been here 19 years and this has to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best fall season we’ve ever experienced.&uot;

Cobbs closed by saying, &uot;Two things come to mind when thinking of our success thus far. One is that having good coaches who have been with us for a while really paid off. That consistency was the key. The other is that we’ve got some young athletes here who are dedicated to the task of making themselves better in their respective sports. They have a desire to show the rest of our conference as well as schools throughout our state that Ridgecroft School is a force to be reckoned with.&uot;