Watching Rock Hill's Christina Vereb and Northwestern's Savannah Angel battle on the volleyball court, one wouldn't expect the friendship they've forged off of the court.
"No offense to Savannah, but once it's game time I only see our side of the court," said Vereb with a laugh. "Afterwards we can hug it out and do all that fun stuff!"
"When I put the purple (Northwestern team color) on, I kind of become a different person," added Angel. "Our friendship kind of goes out of the window, and it becomes about volleyball and nothing else."
On this night, the Trojans put up a strong attack, but in the end the Rock Hill had just too much as the No. 2 Bearcats were able to win, improving to 15-1 overall on the season.
Attacking the ball with competitive ferocity, Vereb and Angel's infectious intensity have made both vocal leaders on their respective squads. They screamed with elation after a hard-earned point, encouraged team mates and fed off the energy of the raucous crowd, who remained deafening for the entirety of the game.
But after the final whistle blew Tuesday night in the Northwestern vs. Rock Hill rivalry game, it was clear that both girls had nothing but mutual admiration and love for the other.
"We've definitely bonded over the years," said Vereb as Angel stood close by. "Both of our families stay in close contact with one another, so it's love all around."
The Vereb and Angel families became acquainted with one another more than three years ago, when Vereb, currently a senior at Northwestern, played with Savannah's older sister Alexandria for the Rock Hill Volleyball Club. The two families, both passionate about the sport of volleyball, subsequently became fast friends, traveling on the road together for various games around the region.
For a 10 day stretch this past summer, the two players from rival high schools teamed together for the United States National and Continental Volleyball Team. The team competed against some of the best varsity-level players in the world, including teams from Chile, Peru and Puerto Rico, and each player was individually evaluated at the conclusion of the 10 day event.
Both Angel and Vereb credit the level of competition they faced together during the summer for greatly improving their overall game, a sentiment agreed upon by both of their head coaches.
"You could definitely see the growth in Savannah's game when we started in August," said Northwestern coach Caesar Robles of Angel. "She is much quicker and much more intuitive of a player now. She is definitely on track to realize her full potential."
"I can't take credit for Christina's success on the court, because it was through her hard work that she is where she is today," said Bearcats coach Cindy Elder of Vereb.
The skill sets of Angel and Vereb were on full display Tuesday, when both Northwestern and Rock Hill put their unbeaten regional record on the line.
Though the Trojans, energized by the home town crowd, battled back from a two-game deficit to win a nail-biter of a third game, the favored Bearcats responded with a 25-19 game to take the match.
Vereb and Angel frequently clashed at the net during the best of five game series, blocking attempted shots and utilizing their lanky 6-foot frames to dominate the inside. Both stayed in the game for nearly all of regulation.
After the Bearcats' victory, Vereb and Angel each described how they came to competitively play volleyball. Vereb credited 8th grade volleyball coach Brenda Brandon (who was in attendance for Tuesday's game) for introducing her to the game, as well as sparking her passion in the sport as well. Angel, currently a junior, followed in the hallowed footsteps of her two older sisters Jana and Alexandria, the former of which plays for N.C. State on a full academic scholarship.
Vereb herself has accepted a scholarship to South Carolina to play volleyball, while Angel has only recently begun to think about playing at the next level. But when the time comes to make a decision, Vereb offered Angel some advice.
"If she does play in college, she needs to go to Winthrop, Clemson, or College of Charleston," said Vereb with a smile.
"Every year those schools hold a volleyball tournament, so we would end up meeting again, which would be really cool."