Prep Volleyball: Carson joins Salisbury tennis in state championships today
By Ronnie Gallagher
Today, two hours apart, Rowan County will be playing for state championships. Salisbury (20-2) takes on Greene Central at 12:30 p.m. at the Burlington Tennis Center while Carson's volleyball team (35-3) will face Cardinal-Gibbons (20-2) at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum around 2:30.
The coaches couldn't be more different.
Talk to Salisbury's Chris Myers and he's smiling and jovial. Why not? His Hornets have won four - count 'em, four - straight 2A titles. His girls have the mindset that they're going to win. Myers doesn't have to convince them.
Talk to Carson's Kelan Rogers and he's a bit more intense. He had to do plenty of convincing and he started back in the summer.
Day after day, the Cougars met at 8 a.m. for physical training, running, playing in the sand... There was mental training, such as no air-conditioning.
"It was countless hours of practice," said Allison Blackwell, one of only two Cougar seniors. "He's an intense coach, but it was for our own good. He told us back in the summer we could make it to the state championship game. He never stopped believing in us."
And Rogers truly believed it. But could he make his girls believe it?
"This is the most talented team I've ever coached," said Rogers, now in his 18th year in the sport. "My mindset was, 'We're going to win a conference championship and go from there.' We knew North Iredell was a huge obstacle."•After two regular-season losses to the Raiders, Carson defeated its nemesis in the North Piedmont Conference tournament. A couple of weeks later, here the Cougars are, going for the school's first state title in only its seventh year of existence.
Even with all his success at West Davidson, Rogers has never made it this far. The Green Dragons advanced to the Western finals three times, but never stood under the bright lights of the big show.
When he arrived at Carson four years ago, he thought he was going to help Trish Hester but soon found out he was taking over.
He praises Hester and this appearance is as much for her.
"The kids who were here were trained," Rogers said. "She worked with them the first three years when they were starting out and built their skill level. When I came in, it was just a matter of getting them to believe and pushing them to that next level with the mental aspects."
The first meeting this season with North Iredell left Rogers a bit discouraged.
"We were scared," he admitted. "We didn't think we could do it."
The Cougars played better in a second loss. And then the win in the tournament gave Rogers what he wanted: the confidence he had searched for.
"We were like, 'Hey, we finally got 'em,' " Blackwell said.
And what did that one win do?
"They believe they can win every night now, I think," Rogers said.
The Cougars will need that mindset against Cardinal-Gibbons (19-3), which is in its eighth straight volleyball final.
"Obviously, with that resume, they're going to be the favorite," Rogers said. "We'll play the underdog role, but we've been the underdog all year to North Iredell. I think we've got a chance to win. I hope we have a chance to win. I know we're the only other 3A team in the state that has a chance. We're going to go play the game and hopefully, it's going to turn out good for us."
Rogers loves the fact he'll be in Reynolds Coliseum. He's an N.C. State grad. But this will be the first championship match he's watched.
"I refused to go if I wasn't going to be playing," he smiled.
His team is playing today. His girls will playing for him, Hester and even Larry Michael, a mentor in Davidson County that Rogers has always sought advice from.
Blackwell assured she wouldn't have a sleepless night. She is ready to go.
"It's another game," she said. "It just happens to be a state championship."
That's the mindset of the Salisbury tennis team as well. Just another match.
Perhaps later today, Rogers will get to wear a smile as wide as the one worn by Chris Myers over the past four years.
Rogers said the team would leave for Raleigh at 10:30 a.m. today. Carson-Cardinal-Gibbons is the second title match of the day. ... In the 1A match, Raleigh Charter (22-5) will face Hendersonville (20-6). ... In 2A, South Granville (22-5) takes on North Surry (32-2). ... In the 4A match, Raleigh Leesville Road (27-0) meets Ardrey Kell of Charlotte (30-1).
You expect Salisbury's tennis team to be in every title match, don't you? The Hornets strike fear just by announcing they're going for a fifth straight crown. This is Salisbury's 12th time in the state championship match and it's 8-3 overall. Greene Central has made 11 finals, winning only two. And both were against Salisbury, in 2005 and 2007.
In the other finals, there is rematch from the past two years: Mount Airy (21-2) against the School of Science & Math (15-3). Each has won so this is the rubber match. ... In 3A, Charlotte Catholic (20-6) meets unbeaten Nash Central (19-0). ... In 4A, Raleigh Broughton (23-0) goes for its third straight title against Grimsley (16-3).
David Shaw will cover Carson while Ryan Bisesi will cover Salisbury for the Post.