The cougars pursue an elusive state title against a fearsome and familiar foe
C. JEMAL HORTON
CONCORD — The Cannon School volleyball team has been one of the best private school teams in the state in recent years.
The Cougars not only dominated a big, tough conference, but also proved themselves at the state level, knocking out some of the top programs in the NC Independent Schools Athletic Association and going deep — really deep — into the playoffs.
But they never walked away with the coveted state championship gear at the end of the season.
The Cougars aim to change that narrative this weekend, when they take on powerhouse North Raleigh Christian Academy in the 4A State Championship game on Saturday at the Knights’ home ground in the state capitol. Game time is set at 3 p.m.
Under freshman head coach Abby Hooker, who spent last season as Cox Mill’s top coach before replacing successful Kim Jackson at Cannon, the Cougars posted a 21-5 record. , which included the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletics Association victory with a 9-1 mark.
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It was the fourth consecutive season that Cannon had won the CISAA title.
And since losing their only league game to Matthews Covenant Day on Sept. 20, the Cougars have won 10 straight, and they’ve dropped just one set in that span.
The Cougars earned byes in the first two rounds of the state tournament, then beat conference foe Charlotte Country Day last week in the third round, followed by a victory over Durham Academy on Tuesday to secure themselves. qualify for Saturday’s game with the undefeated North Raleigh Christian (26-0) in the final.
The Cougars come into their championship game with the talent to win it all, even against the famed Knights, who have won seven straight state championships.
Leading the way for Cannon are sisters Courtney Nix and Maria Nix, Destiny Thomas, Brooke Timmes, Arianna Lopez and Nicky Thomas.
Lopez, a sophomore passer who was an all-state selection last season, leads the NCISAA’s 4A teams in service aces (71) and is second in assists (559). Another outstanding 10th grader, Maria Nix, is a 6-foot outside hitter who ranks third among 4A players in takedowns (314), while also ranking seventh in strike percentage (.297) and eighth in aces (48).
In the middle, senior Thompson and junior Thomas are a force, sitting fourth and seventh respectively in blocks among 4A teams. Thomas is also fourth in hitting percentage (.354).
Finally, there’s Courtney Nix, 5-foot-10, a senior who was an all-state pick when the Cougars reached the 2020 state finals and recently signed a national letter of intent with Clemson.
The Nix sisters are the younger siblings of former Cannon School basketball player DJ Nix, who is now a freshman at Cornell University.
Other critical players for the Cougars were Gabbi Coppa, Lily Wittgraefe, Nadia Fritsch, Erin Lehman and Claire Schaefer.
The Cannon volleyball program has earned statewide respect over the years. Not only are the Cougars ranked No. 2 in the NCISAA this year, according to MaxPreps.comthey are also 15th among all state teams, public and private.
But for as strong as the Cougars have been as they make another determined playoff run, North Raleigh Christian has, unfortunately, been their kryptonite.
Cannon has never beaten the Knights in their previous nine meetings, including some of the Cougars’ best seasons.
It was North Raleigh that beat the Cougars in the 2020 and 2015 state championship games. The Knights are currently ranked second among public and private school teams and first in the NCIAA.
But Saturday will present a new opportunity for the Cougars to finally bring that state championship material to Cabarrus County.
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