CHARLOTTE – With over 650 high school wins under her belt, Ardrey Kell volleyball coach Zoe Bell has been around long enough to know what makes a team successful, and this year’s Knights are checking off a lot of those boxes.
Through Oct. 1, the Knights have gone 15-2 overall and are 12-0 since a 3-2 start to the season.
During that early stretch — the Knights lost to 3A power Marvin Ridge, who is 33-2 through Oct. 1, and Nation Ford, a South Carolina power currently 28-6 — Bell could immediately see what needed to be fixed.
The Knights are loaded with talent, and many players play elsewhere during the offseason with different club and travel teams, but it’s Bell’s job to get them all on the same page.
And that takes time.
“When they are dialed in they can be really, really good. They’ve worked hard at it and I’m getting to them to buy in,” she said. “There are 500 million ways to coach volleyball, but I’m getting them to buy into my way. We’re pretty balanced. I don’t have the big gun, but I have some people who can put it away.”
Bell said one early season game was a giveaway as the Knights committed 22 unforced errors and only forced three, but for the most part, she’s been pleased with how her team has responded this year.
One big change has been at setter, where junior Jadyn Barry has slid into her new role after transferring in from United Faith.
With the Knights, Barry has already amassed 490 assists and has been a seamless transition to the Ardrey Kell offense.
Like many of the Knights, Barry has played club ball with some of her new teammates, and she’s made a quick transition.
“As a setter, it really helps me to connect with the players because then I can know where they’re going to be on the floor,” she said. “I know them now, and I know the way that they like to be set and that just comes with time playing together. That’s made us a lot better.
“And, coach is also putting our film on (the video-review website Hudl.com) so we can see where we’ve made mistakes. So that’s helping.”
Junior Sania McCoy, who leads the Knights with 119 kills through Oct. 1, said the team’s familiarity with each other and the ability to adapt together are probably the biggest strengths to this point.
“We know how each other’s brains work, so when some people mess up, they need a pat on the back and others need oomph to fire them back up, and I think we know how to do that with everyone on the team,” McCoy said. “We get along really well, and it shows. Actually, the biggest thing is we have way better team chemistry, and we all work together this year to win games.”
The last part of that paragraph is what’s music to Bell’s ears and a big reason why she and her players think this team is so good already, and can be better.
“The main thing that has changed this year for us is our team chemistry,” said senior quad-captain Erin Ottavianelli, who is second on the team with 128 digs and is third with 24 aces. “We all get along really well, but we’ve also been able to talk to each other if things aren’t going well. That helps us do well and achieve good things, but if we get in a hole we can fix it.”
When Barry arrived from United Faith that left last year’s starting setters – Ellie Strickland and Jordan Schmidt – pushed into other roles.
But they’ve responded well.
Schmidt is second on the team in service aces and blocks and third on kills. Strickland has over 100 assists and has become a defensive specialist.
“They have bought into their roles, and that’s what we needed,” Bell said. “Ellie still sets some, but she didn’t hang her head or anything. They went out and played and bought into what the team needed.”
Strickland said that’s the way it has to be for the Knights to get over the hump.
“We’re all talented, but I don’t think there is one player carrying the team,” she said. “We’re all doing our jobs and working together to make it work. Everyone is playing a team game.”
Bell points to Charlotte Catholic’s Emma Ellis, a powerful outside hitter who has committed to Purdue. The Knights don’t have that one power hitter, but Bell thinks it’s the chemistry that could push her team to be great. And with McCoy, Mya Duggan, Jolie Schmidt, Elmore and Jordan Schmidt all over 70 kills the Knights feel like their balance can get them over the hump.
Duggan, a junior who is second on the team with 99 kills through Oct. 1, said there has been no issues with anyone off the court, which has made their job easier on it and allowed so many people to seamlessly contribute.
Bridget Elmore, who leads the team in blocks and is fourth with kills, said the team is more positive then ever, and that translates even on the rare occasions when the Knights aren’t playing well.
“We just seems like we can overcome anything this season so much better than in the past,” she said.
But the Knights have to keep it going, and they’re well aware of the playoff fate of late.
Since Bell led the 2012 Knights to Ardrey Kell’s only volleyball title, no team has gotten past the third round. And, for this year’s seniors, their season has ended in the playoffs each of the past three seasons against Northwest Guilford.
This year, they think, the Knights have what it takes to put an end to that.
“Our togetherness and our closeness is the difference,” senior quad-captain Shannon Carney. “I think we all really want to be here. We’re not counting down the minutes to the end of practice like I’ve seen in past years. I think that helps a lot, because we’re all fully committed and want to be here for every minute of all of it this year, and I think that shows in how we play.”