After winning the 2014 NCISAA championship, the Country Day volleyball team had succumb to a bit of tough luck each of the past two seasons.
The stacked 2014 Bucs squad went 44-1 and was nationally ranked for much of that season behind a collection of next-level talent and a star-studded cast of seniors who had been in the program for years.
The following season, the Bucs went 8-23 and 2-8 in CISAA play under long-time coach Brian Rosen, who took over the Providence High program once the year came to an end.
Last year, under the guidance of Anna Moore, the Bucs continued to struggle with formations and position groupings as they posted a 7-26 overall mark and went just 1-9 in the conference.
But, for a number of reasons, this year has been a 180-degree turnaround.
The Bucs have not only gotten back to their dominant form that saw them win two titles and finish runner-up once over a three-year span from 2012 to 2014, but are on the short list of teams with a realistic shot of winning it all.
“Our seniors have stepped into really comfortable roles on this team,” said Moore, who is in her second year after previously serving as a graduate assistant at Lenoir-Rhyne. “Many of them were freshmen the last time this program had a lot of success, and I feel like they’re in a position where they want to leave the program on a solid note. We have that great senior leadership and a lot of young kids who are doing a fabulous job.”
Senior libero Braden Nash – along with fellow seniors Ido Eyo and Caroline Kosmicki – were key contributors as freshmen the last time the Bucs were state champions. Nash said having that championship pedigree and knowing this is their last chance to leave a mark on the Bucs’ program have been key factors in the turnaround.
“The seniors on that team taught me about leadership and I’ve tried to carry that to each team I’ve been on here,” Nash said. “I’ve tried to help a lot of the younger players and I think that helps. I know it can be intimidating to be on the court as a freshman, so I’ve tried to talk to them like those girls used to do for me.”
Moore said she can see the leadership of Nash and the other seniors making a difference every day both in practice and in the games.
“Braden is our senior libero and has been contributing for them since they were state champions,” Moore said. “She brings this calming effect to our back row, so when we face some tough hitters she’ll be back there and get an amazing dig up. She’s just all over the floor back there and she’s our defensive heart.
“Caroline has done much of that, too. She doesn’t have the stats that Braden has, but we’re not where we are without either of them.”
And where the Bucs are is impressive.
After opening the season with a 4-2 record that saw them lose twice to SouthLake Christian, the Bucs have reeled off 14 wins in their past 15 matches and are once again very much looking like the Country Day teams of old.
While the senior leadership has been outstanding from Nash, who leads the team with 373 digs, Kosmicki, who is second on the team with 152 kills and has recorded 122 digs, 69 assists and 29 aces, and Eyo there are many other factors in the turnaround.
Junior Katie Batten (80 kills and team-high 27 blocks) and freshmen Faye Rosselle (73 kills), Addison Pignetti (116 digs) and Kayla Spangler (team-high 670 assists and 34 aces to go with 114 digs) have stepped in and made huge contributions out of the gate.
And especially so Spangler, who has assumed the setter role.
“She’s made a huge difference,” Moore said. “She’s been training as a setter for the past couple of years, she plays club ball and she’s able to run a legit offense and let us mix it up a little more. Having her helps us out offensively so much.”
And, most importantly of all, Spangler’s play has freed up junior outside hitter Zoe Weatherington, who is having a monster season.
Out of necessity, Weatherington spent half of her time setting last year, which is not her natural position, as the Bucs struggled without someone to play that role.
This year, with Spangler entrenched as the setter, Weatherington has exploded statistically. She leads the Bucs with 377 kills, which ranks 52nd nationally and second in the state according to Maxpreps.com and of which she’s converted at a 49 percent clip. Weatherington also has 201 digs, 26 aces and 14 blocks and said she’s taken on a different mindset as a player and as a team.
“Being able to play the position I want to play and I know how to play is huge for my success this year,” Weatherington said. “I’m obviously willing to do anything the team needs me to do, but being able to grow in my position and get better at it really motivates me more this year.
“Last year made us overcome a lot of adversity. We didn’t have a setter, so me and our other outside had to set. That taught me a lot, and the adversity made me realize how much easier this year has been and it’s allowed us to be able to come back in so many games this year after getting ourselves in a hole.”
The Bucs have mostly been able to overcome their shaky starts and are 5-1 in five-set matches, but as they enter the stretch run they have one goal.
No Charlotte-based team has won an NCISAA volleyball title since Country Day last did in 2014, but this team thinks they have all of the pieces to get back and do just that.
“We know ourselves and know what we’re capable of and we know how good we can be,” Weatherington said. “We had all of odds against us a year ago, but now we have everything that we need and everything has come together in the past two years. To win it all would be the cherry on top.”