When North Forsyth senior outside hitter Mary Ellen Enright struck the ball during Wednesday night’s matchup with Forsyth Central, the sound rang around the gymnasium just a little bit more.
It’s fitting, since she’s not the most vocal player on the Raiders this year. She prefers to lead by example.
“Everyone was older than me on the court (last year), so I just kind of fit in,” she said. “I didn’t really stand out. This year, everyone’s having to look up to me because I’m the oldest one. It’s just a different role.”
Her newfound leadership role was put to the test against the Bulldogs. With a 2-0 lead, North was in a good spot, and coming off an Elite Eight trip last season, perhaps they were expecting to easily complete the shutout.
That’s not what happened, as they dropped the match’s third set. The Raiders came together and shared in a realization.
“We got in the huddle after the third set and we were kind of like, ‘It’s not going to be easy like last year. We’re a whole new team,’” Enright said. “We just had to step it up.”
Enright, the only senior on the court for the Raiders, is looking to be a big part of what North’s young squad is hoping to accomplish this season. It’s a group that showed its growing pains on the court and through their emotions on Wednesday night, but they still defeated Central 3-1 in four sets, 25-17, 25-15, 21-25, 25-19.
While the Raiders (10-9, 1-1 Area 5-7A) are always happy with a win, room for improvement was still readily apparent.
“I think we’re still learning about the team right now,” North Forsyth co-head coach Kelly Cecil said. “We’re very much a roller coaster. They’re still learning how to be clutch and close out matches and sets strong and confidently. We’re learning a lot about the team and I think they’re still learning a lot about how to win.”
From the start of the match, the Bulldogs showed the Raiders that they had to earn their victory. North didn’t help itself, with unforced errors and trouble keeping the ball in front of them leading to the opening set being mostly even. With both teams tied at 16-16, that changed, as North went on a 12-1 run to secure a 1-0 lead.
“I feel like that was definitely how we should have played the entire time,” Enright said.
For the second set, it was. Kills from Enright and an ace from Reagan Mercado helped the Raiders to a strong 15-5 lead midway through the set. Enright and her hard hitting eventually led her team to a 10-point win and a 2-0 advantage.
“We’re just looking for her to put a lot of confidence in her teammates,” Kelly Cecil said. “Mary Ellen has a lot of playing experience, and she’s clearly our most skilled player. She tries to be that positive leader out there.”
North’s mistakes returned in the third set, and Central took advantage by holding a slim lead throughout. North made things interesting by narrowing the lead to 24-21, but the Bulldogs’ Emma Harding made the final kill to keep the match going.
The fourth set was not an easy one for the Raiders to take. After jumping to a 6-3 lead, Central tied the set up, but North was able to pull away late for the close 25-19 win to secure the match.
“We’re struggling for consistency right now,” Co-head coach Drew Cecil said. “I feel like when we put forth our best effort, when we’re engaged, we can be pretty good. We’re really struggling to make that consistent right now.”
With the rest of the squad still learning where they fit in, Enright is the one constant from last season's successful squad that her team can rely on. That fact gives her just a little more motivation.“It kind of makes it a bigger goal for me that I need to put the ball down every time I get the opportunity to,” Enright said. “I still rely on the other hitters — it’s just that I know they rely on me more.”