High School Sports

‘Harder’ road, same result: Nation Ford volleyball repeats as 5A state champions

Domination doesn’t begin to describe this Nation Ford volleyball team.

The Falcons, enduring just five losses all season and winning all but two sets in their 2019 postseason run, repeated as 5A state champions on Saturday in Lexington, sweeping the Lexington Wildcats, 3-0 (25-17, 25-20, 25-12).

Over the past two years, the Falcons have won nearly 100 matches and have made things look easy on the court. Nation Ford finished the season with a 48-5-1 record, breaking the school record for wins it set last year — with all but one of its losses coming from out of state opponents.

The Falcons’ only in-state loss was to the Dorman Cavaliers earlier in the season — which they avenged in a sweep in the Upper State championship match on Tues., Nov. 5.

Nation Ford finished the season on a 27-match win streak — its only tie on the season coming in that stretch. During that run, the Falcons dropped six sets in those 27 matches. The state title was the third in the program’s history to go with last year’s first ever 5A state title and a 3A state title the team won in 2010.

Through all the records and proof of sustained excellence, Nation Ford head coach Carrie Christian, who has led the team to all three of those state titles, said this season and the run during the playoffs was a lot harder this time around.

“We had a tough road,” Christian said. “All of those tough matches really prepared us for this. I am so proud of them.”

Christian said the hardest part about her team’s road wasn’t that Nation Ford had a target on its back this year as defending state champions. It wasn’t even the physical aspect of playing 54 matches. Instead, it was the mental aspect of keeping the team focused throughout the season.

“It was more us than anything,” she said. “Staying mentally focused and not letting stuff get to us. It was helpful for us being here before, but the last month has been a tough road.”

The 5A state title match also ended the prep career of one of the most dominate athletes to ever walk the halls of Nation Ford in senior Sophie Fischer, who ended her prep career with more than 1,950 kills

For Fischer, the pressure the past month has been extra hard, as she decommitted to the University of North Carolina and reopened her search for a college. Top volleyball programs in the country like Penn State and Nebraska came calling for Fischer after this.

Through all of the chaos, Fischer never lost focus of the central goal of the team — of winning a second state title — and her coach sung her praises for it on Saturday.

“She is incredible,” Christian said. “She can play anything. She can do anything. She is one of the hardest working kids you will ever meet. She is really something special.”

For Fischer, the second state title was sweeter than the first because of how hard she said it was, especially with everything she had going on from a personal aspect.

“We have worked really hard this season to make sure we repeated,” Fischer said. “It is really exciting. We had a harder route in the playoffs. We have been working hard as a team.”

Fellow senior Emily Lammers agreed with Fischer saying that this season was harder, despite how it may have looked in the score books.

“It has always been our goal and we worked really hard this season,” Lammers said. “We stayed aggressive the whole time.”

The final match

The state finals against Lexington was played at River Bluff High School, a school less than 10 miles away from River Bluff. However, from the opening serve, it was all Nation Ford. Lexington never led in the match.

The Falcons jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the first set forcing a Lexington timeout. From there, they went up 15-10 and extended that lead to 23-16 before another Wildcats’ timeout.

Nation Ford moved on to the second set up 1-0 and again got off to a hot start going up 5-0 before Lexington scored. The Falcons pushed its lead to 14-6, before Lexington rallied and closed to within five points at 16-11. Still, the Wildcats couldn’t tie the set, and the Falcons shook off some mistakes and surged ahead to make it 22-13 before closing the set out.

With a 2-0 match lead, Nation Ford jumped out to a 7-4 lead and while Lexington kept it close early in the third set, again the Falcons found a groove and scored six straight points to take a 17-7 lead before cruising to another state title.

Christian had a lot of praise for not just Fischer, but her underclassmen like junior Hannah Neff and freshman Kennedy Martin. Martin is 6-foot-4 — and is seen as the one who could take up the mantle Fischer has held for years.

“I told Kennedy our plan was for her to follow in Sophie’s footsteps,” Christian said. “She said she was going to make her own footsteps.

“And I can’t say enough about Hannah. Hannah has pushed our team to another level because of her work ethic this season.”

Come the end of the match on Saturday, her team hoisting a familiar but nonetheless special trophy, Christian couldn’t help but reflect on what her team accomplished two years in a row.

“They have really worked hard and have really stuck with the plan all season,” Christian said.

“They really deserve this.”

Mac Banks: mbanks@comporium.net, @MacBanksFM