Matthew Gorry Sports Writer

November 2, 2013

RALEIGH — While warming up for the biggest match of their high school careers Saturday, the Lady Rams never forgot what they were playing for this season.

Starmount donned their white and teal jerseys that honor fallen Ram Meme Brown during pregame warm-ups at the 1A North Carolina High School Athletic Association Volleyball State Championship to remember they had unfinished business from last year. Brown, a 2009 Starmount graduate, died in October 2012 after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer.

“We wore the jerseys in warm-ups as a reminder for why we’re doing this,” head coach Jon Symons said, looking back at the Rams’ five-game loss to North Surry in the 2012 2A playoffs. “Today, we finished the job we didn’t finish last year. And we got it done in big fashion.”

The extra motivation worked as the Rams turned in one of their most dominating performances of the season, sweeping Raleigh Charter in convincing fashion, 25-10, 25-14, 25-15, to capture the 1A state crown.

“We did it for Meme; we dedicated this whole season to her,” senior Erin Barr explained. “We had a little extra push this year. We wanted to win this for her.”

Starmount stormed out of the gates behind a rowdy crowd that made the two-hour trek to Raleigh, scoring seven of the first eight points and 16 of the first 20.

The Phoenix cut the deficit to 19-10 late in the opening game but never found their rhythm as the Rams cruised to the statement 25-10 victory.

“When we jumped on them early, we got them out of sync, and I don’t think they every really got back into sync. I felt pretty good after that start,” Symons explained. “My fear was that we would have a mental break because it’s happened before with a team of mine in the state final.

“But they did a good job of staying focused and pull away and get it done in three, which was impressive.”

Starmount kept up the torrid pace in the second game, jumping out to a quick 9-3 lead, pushing it out to a 20-10 advantage.

Raleigh Charter had no answer as the Rams grabbed a comfortable 2-0 overall lead with a 25-14 win in the second set.

In the decisive third game, the Phoenix finally showed signs of life. They matched Starmount point-for-point to open the set, grabbing an 8-7 lead early one — their first lead of the day.

But the Rams showed their championship mettle, pulling ahead for good at 11-10 on a Hunter Welborn block kill.

From there, Starmount closed the match and the season on a commanding 14-5 burst that was reminiscent of the domination the team showcased throughout the six-match run to the state title.

“This is something that these girls will never forget,” Symons said. “Regardless of when they walk out of Starmount High School, they will always be state champions. This team will always be the 2013 1A State Champions — nothing will ever change. Those banners don’t go anywhere. They can come back in 15 years and those banners will still be there and they were apart of that.

“That’s why you do this. That’s why you like to be competitive and like to have athletes like I’ve been fortunate enough to have,” he added.

The convincing three-game victory in the championship match was the final chapter in the Rams’ remarkable and perfect roll through the state playoffs where they didn’t drop a single set.

“We talked about [sweeping through the playoffs] before the state playoffs started. It was something no Starmount team had ever done. It was something that we thought we might be able to do, and that was the challenge,” Symons said. “I think as we got into more and more and were able to do it, Erin and the team said they wanted to win it in three. If you can go six rounds, 3-0 against everybody in the state playoffs, I think you’ve had a pretty good year.

“You can’t take that away from the 2013 team,” he added. “That’s the only team that’s ever done that, and I’ve had some great teams. That’s a pretty big feather in the cap.”

The win gave Symons’ his fourth state championship in his coaching career, but he said this one was special.

“They’re all great. Every state championship is new — you have different challenges each time. The first one is always great because it’s new. But this one was fun,” he explained, smiling. “I’ve never seen a team like this just dominate people.

“I don’t think a lot of people going into the preseason gave them that big of a chance. But we just got better and got better and everybody began to understand their roles and bought in. The underclassmen got up the level where the seniors were and that made us even better,” Symons added.

Barr, who was named the match Most Valuable Player, was one of four seniors to suit up in the orange and blue for the final time Saturday, along with Haley Hartman, Hunter Welborn and Samantha Welborn.

“We’re the only four seniors in 1A to win our last match, so that’s pretty cool to say,” she said.

“It hasn’t really hit us yet,” Hunter Welborn added. “I think it’ll hit us on Monday when we don’t have practice.”

Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or mgorry@civitasmedia.com.