Published: Aug 25, 2004 Crusaders hustle for wins: Cardinal Gibbons volleyball team not resting on its laurels By EDWARD G. ROBINSON III, Staff Writer
The News & Observer
The quarter-size hole in Christina Falcone's left knee pad exemplifies her team's mentality. Cardinal Gibbons high school volleyball players sprint, slide and sometimes somersault to dig balls.
So what if in the process their equipment takes a beating? Knee pads can be replaced.
When you play for the Crusaders and coach Jim Freeman, timidity takes a back seat to spontaneity, creativity and hustle.
Cardinal Gibbons, which has won six consecutive North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 3-A state championships, has once again this fall been designated among the area's best along with Durham Riverside and Chapel Hill.
N&O Rankings (THROUGH TUESDAY'S GAMES)
Team (last week) record
1. Riverside (1) 2-0
2. Cardinal Gibbons (2) 5-0
3. Chapel Hill (3) 3-1
4. Sanderson (4) 2-0
5. Wakefield (7) 1-0
6. Green Hope (8) 2-0
7. East Chapel Hill (NR) 2-1
8. Person (5) 3-1
9. North Johnston (9) 3-0
10. N. Raleigh Christian (10) 0-0
This past weekend, the Crusaders won the Chapel Hill Invitational, defeating tournament host and defending NCHSAA 4-A state champion Chapel Hill 25-21, 25-16, 25-27, 25-15 in the final.
The Crusaders improved to 5-0 this season and won their second Chapel Hill Invitational.
"Everyone expects us to win. We do have that pressure on us," said Falcone, a 5-foot-10 junior setter. "Teams really want to beat us because we've won six championships and we lose [about] two games a year.
"It drives us to keep winning and to keep the reputation of Cardinal Gibbons."
On prepvolleyball.com, Web site operator John Tawa listed the Crusaders 97th in the top 100 national poll.
Tawa, who considers North Carolina's volleyball development to be in a growth stage compared to established states such as California, included the Crusaders because of their depth this season.
Tawa linked Gibbons' overall success to Freeman, who is in his 14th season as head coach. "He's a galvanizing force," Tawa said.
Freeman's goal this season is to galvanize a team with one senior and five freshmen. Six of the 11 team members are first-year varsity players.
The Crusaders' Dara Hutzler, a 6-foot senior outside hitter, decided not to play this season.
"We're so young," Freeman said. "They have no idea what's going on yet. We have a lot to learn. I'm still trying to figure them out."
In demeanor, this team differs from past teams. From 1998-2000, Cardinal Gibbons teams won 80 matches in a row.
Those teams, Freeman said, were ultra-competitive and featured feisty, dominating players. This year's team, he said, has talent but the players haven't learned how to compete as a unit, and with an edginess.
"We want to be aggressive in everything we do," Freeman said. "Go to the ball aggressively while at the same time be in control and efficient."
In the near future, with players like 6-3 Katie Kabbes and 6-4 Katie Camp, aggressive play isn't likely to be a problem. With improved technique, Freeman expects his freshman duo to emerge as a force around the net.
Kabbes and Camp each had 15 kills against Chapel Hill and combined for 11 blocks.
Aware of their presence at the net, Kabbes encourages her partner to occasionally shoot her opponents an intimidating look. "She's got the glare," Camp said. "She's intense."
But intensity alone rarely wins championships. The Crusaders will expect leadership from senior Katie Novacek and juniors Tara Enzweiler and Sara Uniacke.
Those players will help the Crusaders stabilize their passing game, which has been a staple of teams in the past. On Saturday, the players moved the ball crisply around the floor, setting teammates in optimal positions to make kills.
"If we can control the ball on our side, we can frustrate other teams. We can control the game," said Falcone.
East Chapel Hill coach Michelle Wood said Gibbons players look experienced even if they're not, adding, "They don't make lots of mistakes. You have to play them almost perfect.
"What's so impressive about them is they play defense so well. They give you no free balls and every pass is on the money."
Staff writer Edward G. Robinson III can be reached at 919) 829-4781 or firstname.lastname@example.org