The pieces were there for Freedom Christian Academy to win its first North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state volleyball championship this season, but it took first-year coach Wyndee Mathias and her senior-laden squad several games for the picture to come into focus.
Once it did, it was an absolute masterpiece.
After starting the season with a 9-6 record, Freedom ended with a 13-0 run that included outscoring its opponents 39-1.
In the title game, the Patriots avenged an earlier loss to Gaston Day with their twelfth 3-0 win in their last 13 games.
Mathias told her team the first part of the season would be a learning process for them and for her.
“We’re going to experiment with lineups, changes and different things,’’ she explained to them. “We’ll get a starting point and know where we’ve got to work from.’’
But she also made them aware of their potential. “I told them you are very capable of playing in the state playoffs and going far,’’ she said. “I told them your only limitation would be you.’’
The Patriots qualified for the state playoffs as the No. 6 seed, meaning the trip to the championship match would have to include wins over the top three seeds in the tournament.
Throughout the win streak, Mathias said the team never discussed what they were doing, focusing only on the next game on the schedule and no further. In the finals with Gaston Day, she said, the team was only at about 70 to 75 percent of effectiveness and had to play more of a mental than a physical game. “They fought through that game and ground for every point they could,’’ she said.
For much of the season, the Patriots were led by NCISAA All-State selections Jasmine Wooten and Sophie Majerske.
Majerske is a setter, Wooten an outside hitter. “I think we all played a lot harder because it was our last year and we’ve gone through ups and downs together,’’ Wooten said. “We really wanted to win for each other.’’
Majerske said, “For the seniors, it was knowing for a lot of us this was our last time. We’re not playing in college. We really just went hard.’’
Despite the loss of nine seniors this year, Mathias is optimistic about Freedom’s chances to compete for the title next season. “We’re looking at how we can improve the program from the sixth grade up,’’ she said. “We’re focusing on the entire program and how we can develop a much stronger program.”