The Lady Mustangs went undefeated in conference play en route to capturing the program’s first Three Rivers Conference championship. South Robeson (16-4) defeated chief rival Fairmont — twice, to be exact — for the first time at the varsity level, highlighting its 10-0 league mark.
The banner season, however, didn’t come out of the blue. South Robeson has been steadily climbing out of the conference basement to the top tier under head coach Donnie Carter, who is in his seventh season at the helm.
“It’s good to see the young ladies work as hard as they work, and that it comes to fruition and they can see something positive from it,” said Cater, who is also the school’s athletic director and softball coach. “The first year I was here we didn’t win a match … We did some things differently that they weren’t used to doing and every year it got better.”
By Carter’s third season, South Robeson had maneuvered into the upper-echelon of the league but weren’t yet a major threat to the likes of Fairmont. That began to change last season when the Lady Mustangs finished second outright in the Three Rivers, with its only league losses coming to the conference-champ Golden Tornadoes.
This fall, it all came together. The Lady Mustangs have flexed a rotation including Ahlea Dickens, Niyah Dickens, Savanna Hunt, Illiyah White-Bennett, Jacquel Stackhouse, Virginia McCormick and Jackie Hunt.
Seniors like Ahlea Dickens have been apart of South Robeson’s steady climb for four years.
“(Coach) Carter’s been on ‘100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time’,” said Dickens, a two-time all-conference honoree in her fourth year on varsity. “We worked from my ninth-grade year on up, every year we’ve gotten better.
“Really, I think all the past teams have contributed to what we’ve made it to now. This team, we started off young together so we’ve had the ability to grow together and learn how each other plays.”
Which made South Robeson’s signature five-set and four-sets wins over Fairmont in September especially sweet.
“It really showed us,” Dickens said, “that we had the ability if we worked together, stayed on track and played to our highest capability, then we could win conference like we did.”
Junior Savanna Hunt, an all-conference setter, echoed those sentiments.
“It was huge because nobody in South Robeson’s history had ever beat Fairmont in volleyball,” she said. “That was like a championship in itself.”
Most importantly for Carter, the marathon matches against the Tornadoes proved that his team could deliver in the clutch, a lacking aspect of previous Mustangs’ squads.
“In the past they haven’t been used to that, being close,” Carter said. “In the seven years they’ve progressed to where they competed well and started winning close games. We’ve had a lot of five-set matches this year and we’ve won most of those.”
South Robeson will hope to keep that pace Saturday when the 4A state playoffs begin. The Lady Mustangs’ opponent is to be determined.
“We hope to take it all the way, as far as we can go,” Hunt said. “As long as week keep it up and keep doing the same things were doing now, keep playing together as a team, we should be able to do it.”