It was a birthday that Nation Ford volleyball head coach Carrie Christian won’t forget anytime soon. And it happened just like she planned it.
Nation Ford won its second state championship in the program’s history and the first in 5A for the school as the Falcons swept the Wando Warriors 3-0 (25-11, 25-15, 25-16) Saturday night at White Knoll High.
The state title was Christian’s second with the program. She became the first head coach at Nation Ford to win multiple state titles. It was the fourth team state championship for Nation Ford as a school. With the Dorman Cavaliers being down this year, Christian was confident that this could be the Falcons’ year even before the first serve of the season.
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“This team has worked so hard year round,” she said. “Every day we showed up to play. We really had to work on being more mentally tough and that is what done it for us.”
Wando (49-4) and Nation Ford (44-7-1) came into the finals with over 40 wins on their resume this season. Wando was back for the second straight year after falling in the finals to Dorman last season. Nation Ford had faced Wando earlier in the season falling to them in the Tournament of Champions at Dorman. A different Falcons team took the court Saturday.
Both teams entered the gym at the same time to the rock band Europe’s 1986 hit “Final Countdown,” blaring over the speaker system, a song so old that most of the players in the championship game probably wouldn’t have heard it before. A battle-tested Falcons team took the song to heart and the final countdown had begun for Wando as Nation Ford dominated the match.
“We talked all week with the girls about peaking at the right time,” Christian said.
From the opening serve, Nation Ford had a swagger about itthat spoke volumes from a confidence stand point. The Falcons looked like a prize fighter stepping into the ring knowing it was just a matter of time before they connected with the knockout punch. For the Falcons, that was in three sets.
“It seems surreal,” Christian said. “That this just happeedn and in the way that it happened. All of the girls had a good game.”
Nation Ford’s Sophie Fischer came out like a woman possessed in the opening set and smashed down kills over the net that would have broke the floor if they were hit any harder. Fischer, a junior, is already committed to the University of North Carolina and showed early on why she was so heavily recruited so early in her prep career.
“I feel like we came out really strong and played really well as a team,” Fischer said. “I told myself this was the last game of the season and to just flat out give it all you have right now.”
Wando took two early time outs in the first set down 13-3 and the joy on the Nation Ford bench at that point was obvious. The Warriors rallied in the first set after the time outs, but also had that deer in the headlight look, wondering what was happening and why it was happening so quickly.
The Warriors tried to calm each other down on the court, but the frustration was obvious on their faces.
The Warriors went up early in the second set, but Fischer moved around the court and was able to put kills and blocks away on defense and took command to lead Nation Ford back from down 3-1 to up 9-3. Fischer said she was surprised at how the Falcons put the match away with as much ease as they did.
“I honestly came into the game knowing we were going to have to work so hard and put everything we have into this,” she said. “I know we did, but we finally peaked at the right moment as a team.”
Wando improved as the second set wore on, but the Falcons’ play at the net was too much for them at times as they would catch the Warriors out of place and shake things up with soft touch tips over the net instead of kills to put points away.
As the second set continued, Nation Ford seemed to toy with Wando, who would creep within three or four, before the Falcons would again score several points to widen its lead. The Falcons oozed with confidence after winning the second set, as they danced on the bench to some more modern rap music in “What You Know About Me,” by Nicki Minaj during the brief intermission.
“We brought so much energy and effort to the court right away,” said Falcons’ senior Camryn McDonagh. “We knew we couldn’t be dancing all the time, but obviously at state, we knew we were going to have fun. We had to keep fighting and stay focused and have positive energy.”
The confidence helped, but Wando didn’t take the dancing lightly as they came out stronger in the third set. Tied at nine, the Falcons opened a small gap, enough to bring a smile back to their faces, but not enough to make them feel like they had the match wrapped up. That would soon change as Nation Ford would finish the third set with nine straight points before putting the game away and the Dirty Birds, the student section for the Falcons, started a “warm up the bus” chant directed at Wando.
In the end, for the Falcons, it was about just doing what they had been doing all season, but most importantly having fun while doing it.
“By having fun during the game, it made it easier,” said Falcons’ senior Gretchen Fischer. “We were more comfortable. We were having more fun in what we were doing.”
Mac Banks: email@example.com, @MacBanksFM