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10 is magic number

AHOSKIE – They were mired in mediocrity.

Ten games into the season, Ridgecroft School’s volleyball team was 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the Tarheel Independent Conference.

The proud history of the Lady Rams’ volleyball program could have been in trouble, but then something happened.

“We had a teamwork problem,” said first-year Head Coach Susan Nabinger. “We had a lot of potential; we just needed to play as a team and not six individuals.”

Nabinger said the coaching change probably had some lingering affects too.

“I think it was a big switch from Nancy (Brittenham) since most of them had played under her since the seventh grade,” Nabinger said. “We have different coaching styles.”

Whatever the reason, the Rams had a long way to go if they wanted to take their place as a perennial member of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state playoffs.

Then it happened – the turnaround came.

Ridgecroft rolled off 10 consecutive victories to not only get themselves back into playoff contention, but to claim a tie for second place atop the TIC standings by the end of the regular season.

“I think we all realized we had so much more potential than we were actually showing and we knew we needed to show it,” Rams’ senior Caitlin Harrison said. “That’s when we knew we had to make a change.”

Classmate Megan Hedspeth said she believed teamwork was the key to the change.

“I think what turned us around was our teamwork,” she said. “At first, we had trouble working together as a team, but our determination overcame that obstacle.”

Bardin Murray, one of the other seniors on the squad, said there was a combination of reasons the team rolled off 10 in a row.

“We got more enthusiastic and we began to work together and play like a team,” she said.

That theme was also part of Kristina Cooper’s thoughts.

“I think we all started spending more time together and we got comfortable with the girls who moved up from junior varsity,” Cooper said. “We started working as a team and we started winning. After we beat Lawrence, we were so excited and we realized we could beat whoever we really wanted, we just needed to work together.”

The four seniors said getting the team back on track and making the state playoffs was important to them.

“I can’t ever begin to describe how important it was to turn everything around,” Hedspeth insisted. “We wanted to win so badly, but we still had the issue of teamwork. Once we got over that, we started playing like a team and now we’re number eight in the state. I think that’s pretty good.”

“It was very important to me to turn our season around,” Murray said. “We decided to pull together because we wanted our season to continue.

“We as seniors especially wanted to win, but it was really a team effort,” she continued. “All six of us began showing a lot of heart.”

Harrison said she also felt the strong desire to get the Rams into the playoffs.

“It was very important to me, as a senior, to make the playoffs,” Harrison said. “Once I realized this was my last year playing volleyball at Ridgecroft, I wanted to finish strong and leave something behind. We knew we could do it, we just had to. The four senior stepped up and encouraged the team.”

Cooper said one of the reasons she wanted in the playoffs is to prove the team belonged there.

“It was important to us to make the state playoffs because we really wanted to prove that we are good enough and deserve to be there,” she said. “Also, being a senior, states will be the last time I will ever play with my team and I wanted to go as far as we can.”

The streak of 10 consecutive wins began with a straight-set victory over TIC rival Terra Ceia Christian School, but it was the second win that all four seniors pointed out as their favorite match of the year.

Lawrence Academy came to Ahoskie undefeated in league play and having won two consecutive Tarheel Independent Conference regular-season championships, but Ridgecroft took a grueling match and notched the first victory against the Warriors in the TIC.

“When Lawrence came to us and we beat them, that was the beginning of our winning streak and it was exciting because they were undefeated,” Murray said.

“My favorite match was the second time we played Lawrence and won,” Harrison said. “We knew they were undefeated and that just made us want to win even more.

“That definitely gave our team a boost from then on and we knew how strong a team we really were,” she added.

The Lady Rams also defeated Hertford County High School, Pungo Christian Academy, Northeast Academy, Albemarle School and Hobgood Academy during the 10-game stretch.

They went into the TIC tournament as the number two seed and reached the finals before falling to Hobgood.

On Sunday afternoon, the Lady Rams were chosen as the number eight seed in the NCISAA 1-A volleyball tournament. They will host Cape Fear Christian Academy at 4:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) in the first round of the tourney.

That trip to the state tournament is the culmination of the hard work the team put in.

“The game is very important to Bardin, Caitlin, Megan and I because it could be our last,” Cooper said. “All I have to say is – win or lose – I’m so proud of our team and we’re just going to go out and play as hard as we can.”

Harrison agreed.

“Playing in the playoffs is really important,” she said. “We want to win because it would definitely show everyone that we are the strong team we know we could be.”

“The game (today) is very important because I didn’t even think we would be in the states and we have overcome so much,” Murray added. “I know everyone on our team feels this way.”

Nabinger said while she was nervous about the experience, she was also excited because she knew her team had worked so hard to get there.

“I feel confident,” she said. “I am thrilled. We had a few kinks to work out, but I knew from the beginning we had the potential to do better and when we didn’t it was frustrating. For us to have reached that potential now is very rewarding.”

Whether or not the Lady Rams defeat Cape Fear and advance, they have been able to put together a season all of them will remember.