The Southwestern Randolph Cougars hold the state championship banner after their win against Camden County Bruins in the 2A State Championship volleyball match at Valvano Arena at Historic Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, NC on November 6th, 2021. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL
RALEIGH — The Cougars of Southwestern Randolph are once again state champions in volleyball.
The Cougars faced a Camden County Bruins team that was undefeated and had only lost one set all season. The Cougars started quickly at Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of NC State Saturday with a first set win. The Bruins came back to tie the match at one set apiece. After dropping the second set, SWR took the next two sets to seal the championship.
“It’s huge for our girls, coaches, the whole school and community,” said SWR athletic director Chris Chapman in an interview with North State Journal in Raleigh. “They really came out and supported our team this year and I couldn’t be happier.”
The win marks the third state championship in volleyball for the Cougars. They won back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992.
Coley Shiflet won the MVP award and Molly Strider won the sportsmanship award.
“When we won that first set, I feel like our team got a little bit too cocky,” said Shiflet in a post-game interview. “Then we realized in the second set that we are actually going to have to play.”
On winning the MVP award, Shiflet said she wasn’t expecting it. “Usually the people that get awards are the hitters and not the defensive players,” said Shiflet. Shiflet was visible throughout the match and made several dives to keep the ball in the air for the Cougars.
After advancing to the championship game over number one seeded East Surry in the western regional, the Cougars faced the east’s number one seed in undefeated Camden County. “We talked about how that undefeated thing can be good and bad.,” said head coach Darby Kennedy after the match. “We’ve lost to some big teams and we know how to win against big teams.”
Kennedy said winning the first set was critical. “We know how to battle back from a loss and we know how to battle back from one set down but, do they?”
Camden did bounce back after losing only their second set of the season. Kennedy echoed her MVP’s comment on the Cougars second set performance. “I think that confidence was way up there … you’ve got an undefeated team and you just beat them pretty good.” said Kennedy. “We talked about it. In that third set we got recomposed.”
After taking the third set easily, the Cougars jumped out to a lead in the fourth set but errors allowed the Bruins to close the gap as the Cougars played towards championship point. “We played full of emotion today so there was a roller coaster of highs and lows.,” said Kennedy. “In that fourth set, the leadership from the seniors, they really stepped up.”
Kennedy said the win is big for the entire Randolph County community. “All of us have been chasing state titles for awhile. Wheatmore made it here not too long ago, Asheboro made it here,” said Kennedy. “These coaches, I’ve looked up to. They really supported me … I really feel supported by our entire community. Everybody is here and it’s a blessing.”
The Cougars navigated a Piedmont Athletic Conference with an undefeated regular season and Kennedy credited that gauntlet, including a loss to Uwharrie Charter in the conference tournment, with her team’s resilience in the state tournament. “I would love to see if there is a tougher 2A conference in our state,” said Kennedy. “I give credit to [conference opponents] because we wouldn’t be here if they didn’t push us.”