SouthLake Christian volleyball: perfect and prepared
by Staff Writer
It’s easy to understand the distraction. SouthLake Christian Academy’s volleyball team is 25-0 and headed to the state tournament’s final eight on Friday, Oct. 28, at Cary Academy.
“I can’t even focus in class,” senior hitter Kayla Summer said, laughing. “I’ve been dreaming about the tournament and what we’re going to accomplish.”
SouthLake Christian, the No. 2 seed in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A division, will play No. 10 seed Forsyth Country Day (13-6) at 1 p.m. on Friday at Cary Academy.
This is SouthLake Christian’s first season in 3A after winning the 2A state championship last season.
The top seed – to no one’s surprise – is Charlotte Latin (37-2), which has won the past six state titles. SouthLake wouldn’t meet powerhouse Charlotte Latin until the final, but both must win two playoff matches before that.
Winning last year’s title, Summer said, taught the Eagles a valuable lesson about the state tournament.
“We know what it means to be a champion from last year,” she said. “We know you have to be on your game the minute you step onto the court. Last year, at the state championship (match), we stepped onto the court and were ready. The other team wasn’t expecting that. We know we’ll have to do the same thing this year with Latin.”
SouthLake has rolled through the regular season and conference tournament, winning 75 of 82 games. The Eagles won three times by 3-2 scores, once by 3-1 and the remaining 21 victories were 3-0 sweeps.
Seniors Katie Schoenrock and Summer have been dominant forces at the net. Schoenrock has 400 kills and 89 service aces. Summer has 234 kills and 228 digs.
Olivia Loeffler has been a steady contributor with a team-high 247 digs and 81 aces. Dakoda Hawkins, a freshman, has 319 assists as the setter. Fellow setter Lucy Iannarino has 395 assists.
“We’re working well as a team, and I feel like we’ve really bonded, especially the new girls,” Summer said. “We’ve adopted them well. We’re not afraid to talk to each other. In our last match, we were talking between points, just boosting each other’s confidence.”
Coach Rachel Noreika has directed the smooth transition to a higher classification.
“I’ve had to challenge them each individually with ways they can grow, and their roles,” Noreika said. “We couldn’t get complacent. I’m happy with the way they’ve responded, pushing themselves to work on the things I’ve asked them throughout the season.”
Noreika said strategy and lineups don’t change much this deep into the season. In SouthLake Christian’s case, when you’re 25-0 there’s not a lot to fix.
“At this point, it’s mental. We’ve been training hard all season. It’s not about doing anything new. It’s about getting them to a (mental) point where they realize that they have control of the game. Building up confidence.”
The Eagles can draw from last year’s championship experience, and the fact that they’ve steamrolled most opponents this season.
Noreika laughingly said she’ll remind the players “to breathe” as to avoid any championship nerves that can easily creep in. But mostly, the Eagles are having fun, and have been since August.
And now, a second straight championship is possible.
“It’s been a ton of fun,” Summer said. “It’s been my favorite season, and I’ve had a lot of seasons in volleyball.”