CHARLOTTE – When then freshmen Cecelia (Cece) Chavez, Amani Mohammud, Cleo Shannon and Ashlyn Hanson joined the Myers Park volleyball team in 2017, coach Bettie Berry quickly dubbed the quartet “The Freshman Four.”
The foursome has taken a very strong hold on the program since arriving, and this year has the Mustangs off to a 9-2 record that has them 5-0 and alone in first place in the Southwestern 4A and riding an eight-game win streak.
Chavez is the master setter of the Mustangs, much like the quarterback of the team deciding when, where and with which players to attack opponents.
And she’s got a lot of options, starting with Mohammud, Shannon and Harris, who are the top three attackers for a young and very good Mustang team.
“We practice every day and even on Saturdays some so I think the confidence we have playing together is one of the reasons for our success,” Chavez said. “But also because it’s like we’ve already done this a million times this season so it’s repetition. And we’ve been together so long, everyone knows each other so well and we get along so well.”
The cohesiveness is easy to see each time the Mustangs score a point.
That was on display when the Mustangs fended off Porter Ridge’s attempt to take over the conference lead on Sept. 19.
The teams entered the game tied in the conference standings with perfect 3-0 records, and the Pirates made it close early tying the first set at 15.
But then the fun began as the Freshman Four went to work.
Chavez had 12 digs and 36 assists in the game, picking apart the Pirate defense.
And with each kill put down or service ace that hit the floor, the Mustangs celebrated like best friends who haven’t seen each other in months.
“We’re all super cohesive and we get super excited when we get points,” Shannon said. “I think that’s our secret because we’re all super excited for each other and it really doesn’t matter who finishes points for us. We have confidence Cece will get it where it needs to go.”
On the season, Chavez has 280 assists and is third on the team with 80 digs.
Shannon (team-high 72 kills), Hanson (127 digs, 68 kills and a team-high 35 aces) and Mohammud (46 kills and 20 aces) lead the offensive attack.
“It’s easy for me because I have options everywhere,” Chavez said. “It’s really helpful because the pass can be off a little or shanked and I know someone is going to be there that can take care of the ball. I don’t need to worry or don’t have to set just Ashlyn or just Cleo because there are other people who know how to put the ball down.”
The wealth gets shared around as players like Amaya Jeffers (39 kills and team-best 13 blocks), Sarah Stollar (73 digs and 37 kills), Ryan Redfern (59 digs) and Sophia Kafiti (team-best 186 digs) have all made significant contributions.
Even when playing conference teams like Garinger, Rocky River and East Meck who don’t have competitive programs, the Mustangs are learning to find good in the blowout wins.
“Even some of the lesser quality teams that we play gives everyone a chance to play,” Hanson said. “We carry 18 girls so there are a lot of us. It’s an opportunity to give the younger girls some experience, which is good for us down the road.”
While the Mustangs seem to have it all, Berry knows tougher times may lie ahead.
Even after her team blanked Porter Ridge 3-0 in a big conference match, she didn’t like everything that she saw on the court.
“We were really up and down the whole time,” she said. “We can play unbelievably well for five points and we can play terrible for five points. Hopefully, we’re going to get to the point where we play less terrible at times.”
The Mustangs’ next big test comes Oct. 8 when they travel to Hickory Ridge, the two-time defending Southwestern 4A champs who are just a game back in the loss column as of Sept. 25.
But the way this team is playing right now and the way they’ve bonded, the Mustangs are ready for the long haul.
“We also have an old team because a lot of the girls are juniors have all been playing together for so long that we just know where everyone is going to be on the court,” Chavez said. “For me, I think that’s a big advantage we have and a reason we’ve started so well.”