The showdown at Horizon Christian Academy volleyball practice had finally arrived. Kaitlyn Loesel, 5-foot-11, stepped to the net on one side. Evelyn Parker, 6-foot, all-state hitter, waited 20 feet from the net on the other. The set went up, and on each side of the net, the players began their specific choreography that would lead to a collision of technique in the middle – Parker running and leaping and uncoiling her right arm and hand to blast the ball, Loesel pouncing straight up with her arms reaching to block Parker’s hit.
Parker connected, and the force of the hit kept the ball travelling past Loesel even as it skimmed her hand.
"Oooo, kill," Horizon head coach Kierra Dantzler said.
Loesel got even on the second showdown with a block, and the two stared at each other for a fleeting second.
On the third showdown, Loesel’s confidence grew and burst out.
"See me. See me! SEE ME!" she yelled as she blocked Parker.
"Shut up!" Parker said, smiling as she jogged to the back of the line.
In many ways, this is Parker’s toughest competition during the high school season, for the Lady Warriors haven’t found much from opponents recently. Horizon ripped through its schedule last season unblemished, 19-0, with a GICAA Division II state championship. The script has been the same this season, even with a new head coach (Dantzler). The Lady Warriors are 9-0 heading into Thursday’s match against North Georgia Christian Academy. Added together, it’s the longest winning streak in school history.
"We just have the right coach, and the right teammates joined this year," Parker said. "It’s really working well for us. … We just have a lot of good girls. We all get along, and we all have good chemistry."
Indeed, Horizon has been virtually the same team during its historic winning streak. It’s had senior all-region setter Audrey Clanton, senior libero Tiffany Jackson and outside hitters Annsley Marks and Cassie Prausa. The Lady Warriors added a few reinforcements in hitter/setter Olivia Beals, who transferred from Grace Baptist Christian, and Loesel, who returned from an injury that sidelined her all of last season.
And there has been Parker, a junior who was Horizon’s go-to offensive weapon last season when she broke a single-season school record with 117 kills to go along with 51 aces and 21 blocks.
"My goals [this season] were just to beat my records from last year," Parker said. "I had 117 kills last year, and I’m just trying to beat that right now. … I think I’m getting there."
Parker and the Lady Warriors find themselves in the rare position of building off perfection. It’s not a heavy burden, Parker said. There are moments where the team can savor its accomplishment, like the post-match celebrations, 28 and counting.
But the streak’s magnitude is perhaps best understood by the awe from opponents who come up to Horizon before and after games not to threaten but to learn, who confess to studying the way the Lady Warriors play and practice in hopes of augmenting their own program.
"It’s kind of nervous actually," Parker said. "We just think about how we’re a good team. We play well together. [We] just try not to think about it too much. Just do what we do and play our game."