The 2-A state champion squad of Hendersonville High is honored in City Council chambers last week. Coach Erica Cantrell, a brunette, is the fifth woman from the left. Principal Bobby Wilkins is in back, and manager David Rhode at right. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas-Hendersonville High volleyball state champion Lady Bearcats earned a day of honor last week from the City of Hendersonville, after demolishing rivals on the court.
Friday was declared their special day by Mayor Barbara Volk and City Manager John Connet, at the City Council meeting the night before. This honored the school’s first-ever 2-A volleyball title, and the players as community role models for such values as teamwork and perseverance.
Hendersonville won 10 volleyball state titles in 1-A, the last a season ago, before moving up to larger 2-A this season. The Lady Bearcats won the first state title of any of the four local high schools this season. Principal Bobby Wilkins summarized the city proclamation of the team as “Hendersonville Heroes,” in an announcement to HHS students Friday morning.
The Lady Bearcats harvested their state title against Wheatmore from Randolph County, on Nov. 2 in Raleigh. HHS (24-5) won three of four close “sets” (games) by 25-20, 26-24; 22-25; 25-21.
The pivotal set was the second one, a comeback triumph giving HHS a 2-0 match lead instead of a deadlock. Trailing 24-21, HHS scored five points in a row as Jamie Lee Zullo smashed two kill shots and a block. Caylie Shew, who led HHS with 12 “kills,” slammed home the title-winning point.
Winning the title is an “overwhelmingly joyful feeling,” title match most valuable player Cassie Born told The Tribune. The junior outside hitter made 20 kills combined, in the semifinal win over Lake Norman Charter then in the final match.
(Erica Cantrell “kills” the ball for West in 2008. She was MVP as West won the 2-A state title, a feat she just duplicated as HHS head coach.)
Born credits teammates for “passion for the game,” and “intensity and energy rising” for big points — especially in set two. She also cited cohesion, “coming together as a unit.” Strategically, she pointed to fast-paced transition starting on defense with returning hard hits, and passing to playmakers. The setter sets up hitters, who smash accurate winners. Honing technique in practice, tactical preparation, superior passing and serve returns and nine service aces were among HHS keys to victory.
Erica Cantrell is the head coach. The Lady Cats swept all Western Highlands Conference foes in straight sets, going 12-0 in the WHC. HHS athletic director Scott Moore said that late in close contests, the coach revved up the team. “With her intensity cranking up, they sensed the urgency of not letting the ball hit the ground. I saw them diving even more.”
The five seniors are Clare Little, Tess Russell, Shew, Amber Wheeler and Zullo. Seven juniors who seek a “three-peat” next season are Born, Micayla Bedoian, Kaitlyn Capps, Robbi Clark, Blaire Hawkins, Sydney Gilliam and Hunter Warwick. Hawkins and Victoria Schandevel, the lone sophomore, were setters.
Statistically this season, team leaders included Born with 198 kills; Shew made 183, Zullo 170, Wheeler 155 and Bedoian 126. The team kill rate was 39.7 percent. Gilliam served to win 212 points. She notched 59 aces, Shew 45, Schandevel 44 and Capps 34 aces. Gilliam also led HHS with 176 “dig” retrievals. She returned 219 serves, and Shew 217. Top blocker Bedoian rejected 95 shots.
“Blonde Bombers” fits this athletic, ball-smashing, mostly fair-haired squad. The tallest, 5-10 Little, earned the team sportsmanship award. She called the title repeat a “big accomplishment, to win the school’s first 2-A volleyball state title.” A.D. Moore said the state titles sign at the southeastern edge of the football field should add the newest title any day.
The Lady Cats won it all in 1-A last year, behind then-senior hitters Hailey Cook and Ashlea Giblin. That was Brooke Stanley’s only year as head coach. She then got a collegiate head coaching job at her alma mater, Albany. She had been the Great Danes’ setter, and conference top player in 2009.
Stanley starred in 2003-06 at West Henderson. West has championship pedigree, too. Stanley was coached by her mother, Jan Stanley. After Jan retired and with Brooke off to college, Jan was succeeded at West by her eldest daughter, Tiffany Lowrance.
West went 25-3 this year, and reached the 3-A fourth round. Jan Stanley’s disciples coach at three of the four local high schools. One, Elizabeth Pippin-Phillips, led East Henderson to playoffs in recent years. The non West-affiliated coach, veteran Sue Moon, guided North Henderson to 25-4-1.
Cantrell was Brooke Stanley’s recommended successor at HHS, after serving as her assistant. They overlapped a year as West stars. Now, each has won a state title as a rookie head coach at HHS, making Hendersonville apparently the first school to win back-to-back state volleyball titles with different head coaches.
Cantrell was MPV when West won the 2-A state title in 2008. “She took control of everything,” Jan Stanley said at the time. Cantrell relied on training, athleticism and willpower to overcame odds, as a 5-foot-5 outside hitter facing taller foes. She blasted the ball by them using superb timing, leaping and shot velocity. She also had a fast jump serve.
She showed coaching potential as a player, leading vocally and by example. Cantrell said she wrote inspirational notes to West teammates, such as “Play this game like it’ll be your last” and “leave it (full effort) on the floor.”
Coach Cantrell is fiery with an “edge,” is more intense than her predecessor and similarly has a “wealth of knowledge” about the sport, Moore said. He noted that in questioning a call in the title match, Coach Cantrell “started to get on the official, but immediately sat herself itself down” to avoid a yellow card and point penalty.
Moore lauded “her no-nonsense approach. She’s caring. But she demands a lot. She expects the girls to carry themselves a certain way, on and off the court. It pays dividends.” Cantrell espouses role modeling for younger students, as Jan Stanley did with the motto “Little Eyes are Upon You.” Winning tradition and attitude spreads from elder to younger players, Erica Cantrell has said. “You learn from everyone else in front of you.” Born echoed these senses of legacy and pride.
Born told The Tribune she idolized HHS career “kills” leader Bailey Hunter, 6-1 hitter who last season wrapped up her Georgia Tech career. Born was in stands in Raleigh in 2007, seeing Hunter lead Lady Cats to their third state title in a row. The Pyles sisters Beth and Molly earlier each won consecutive state titles. Molly netted four in a row through 2000, before starring for UNC-Chapel Hill.
As Born noted, Hendersonville tends to win volleyball state titles in bunches; she hopes to extend the trend next season.