CARY — One of the dangers that comes with being a consistently superior team is the tendency for complacency.
It happened to Raleigh Charter in its second game against South Robeson on Wednesday night, as it has several times this season. Despite that brief lapse, the Phoenixes went on to win all three games, picking up a win in the second round of the NCHSAA 1A volleyball playoffs at Cary Academy.
“I think we all just kind of lost intensity in the second game, and it just took us a while to get it back,” said senior Clara Leonard. “We got it back in the third game, but in the second game we just kind of chilled like we had it. “
The contrast between the first two games was noticeable. Raleigh Charter took control of the first set, winning 25-9 without ever trailing.
In the second set, South Robeson took an early 4-1 lead before Raleigh Charter stormed back. That was the pattern for the duration of that game. South Robeson continually threatened to break away, but Raleigh Charter did just enough to keep them at bay, eventually pulling out a 25-21 win.
By the third game, Raleigh Charter was back to its dominant self, again winning 25-9.
For Raleigh Charter coach Tania Stafford, the difference between the games was defensive intensity.
Grace Irvin led Raleigh Charter with 10 aces, while Joanna Powers had 20 kills as Raleigh Charter advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
Raleigh Charter knows a little bit about deep playoff runs, having made it all the way to the state championship match last year, where the Phoenixes lost 3-0 to state power Hendersonville. Wednesday’s win improved this season’s record to 21-3.
Despite the team’s outstanding record, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Raleigh Charter. This is Stafford’s first season leading the Phoenixes, and other than the six returning players, there was limited experience, as Stafford said three of her players had never played volleyball prior to joining the team.
“It’s been a challenge,” Stafford said. “Especially since we don’t have our own gym.”
Raleigh Charter rents area facilities for athletics. The volleyball team, a No. 1 seed, was host in its first- and second-round matches but played both at Cary Academy.
One of the other challenges has been keeping the team focused. A lapse such as Wednesday’s has been a recurrence during the season.
“We’ve lost a lot of second and third games to teams that we should have beaten,” Leonard said. “When we play harder teams, it shows that we can play.”
Powers said that she and her teammates know that in order to return to the state finals, they will have to play hard in every game.
“We want to get back there really badly,” she said. “Since we were there last year, we really want to take it.”