After finishing their Thursday afternoon practice, the varsity volleyball Fighting Scots huddled around a sheet of paper posted outside of the new gymnasium.
The paper was a listing of the top-ranked volleyball teams in the state of North Carolina. And on it, the 21-0 Fighting Scots were listed as number two behind Leesville Road out of Raleigh, who are also undefeated on the season.
Their number two ranking is but one example of the Scots not receiving the respect they feel they deserve. Many expected a less successful season in 2012 after six seniors departed the team in the off-season. But if you ask the proud players and coaches who are currently preparing for the 4-A state playoffs as a number-one seed, that’s exactly the way they like it.
“We may have lost a lot of people, but this team has more fight than last year’s team hands down,” said Scotland senior Greta Griswold, who has been a member of the varsity squad since her sophomore year. “We’re here and we’re the same Scots that have been the best team in the conference for the past eight years.”
When Scotland reflects on the season they’ve had up until this point, one match in particular springs to mind as their defining team moment.
Roughly a month ago, the Fighting Scots were down 13-8 to conference rival Pinecrest in a marathon five-set contest. The Patriots needed just two points to close out the match, hand Scotland its first regular season loss and possibly change the landscape of the Southeastern Conference.
But none of that happened. Instead, Scotland junior Maddie Milholland dropped back to serve and helped lead a furious rally that saw the Fighting Scots take the fifth set 17-15.
It all boils down to a catchphrase emblazoned on t-shirts that members of the team display for all to see: Refuse to Lose. And after the gritty resolve shown on that night in mid-September, head coach David Barnes sees a team whose hard-nosed mentality can take them to heights the program has never before reached.
“We only have nine players on our team currently, and they’re out here working extra hard without the support they’ve grown accustomed to having,” said Barnes, who has now led the Fighting Scots to eight consecutive conference championships, a feat likely never to be duplicated in any SHS sport.
“There’s not a lot of help, so these girls have had to tow the extra load. They’ve done exactly that, and their relentless desire to win is as much a part of our success as anything else,” he said.
In the 11 seasons that Barnes has overseen the Fighting Scots, one thing has eluded his grasp: A 4-A state championship. Last year’s loaded team made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs, which is the farthest that any Barnes-coached Scotland team has reached on the biggest stage.
But this season in particular takes on added meaning for Barnes, as he plans to step down as the head coach of the Scots once their playoff run either ends early or with a championship banner.
“We’re playing for coach Barnes in a lot of ways,” said Caroline Pridgen, who owns every major hitting record in Scotland volleyball history. Under Barnes, Pridgen has become one of the most prolific players in the state, and is currently fielding several Division-1 collegiate offers at the moment.
“This season is special, because not only is it our last year as seniors, it’s also the last year that Coach Barnes will be here as well. We want to win it all, and I think we have the ability to get there if we truly want it,” she said.
Expectations and emotions aside, one thing will remain constant throughout the Scots’ postseason run. Due to their regular season dominance, the road to the state championship will come through Scotland, and fans will be able to attend each and every game.
The first team standing in the way of the Scots is Southeast Raleigh, who will arrive Saturday afternoon to take on Scotland at 1:00 p.m. in the new gym.
And as the Scotland football team rumbles towards its own playoff destiny, Griswold believes her team is the hottest ticket in town.
“We’re the most successful sport there is here in Scotland,” Griswold said. “We may have not gotten all headlines, but people need to realize that this team is exciting to watch and that we’ll be playing in front of our fans throughout the playoffs.”