CLAYMONT – Good volleyball teams are nothing new at Archmere Academy. In the last three state tournaments, the Auks have been seeded first, second and third. The only thing to escape their grasp during that time is a state championship.
That could change this season, as Archmere once again is the top seed in the 16-team bracket. Cara Eppes, the Auks’ senior setter, believes this year’s team is capable of earning a trophy at Sunday’s final at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.
“In the past, we’ve struggled because of our chemistry, and this year we just all get along really well. So we play better, and it’s more fun when you win,” Eppes said a day before her team defeated St. Georges Tech in the opening round of the tournament, a match in which she had 35 assists.
“We know we can (win), but it’s going to be hard. Every team is going at it; every team has a good chance. Everyone’s going to have a lot of heart out there, so it will be difficult, but hopefully we can make it,” she said. “I think we just want to stay positive and stay focused, and really think more about what we have to do than about the other team that we’re playing.”
Under the leadership of Eppes and several other seniors, Archmere is 18-1 after a 3-0 sweep of Caravel Academy in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. The Auks will meet Padua Academy in the semifinal round Thursday night at St. Mark’s High School. The two teams did not play each other during the regular season.
Eppes said every player on the roster has played a part in the team’s success, although much of the acclaim has gone to her and fellow seniors Patreece Spence, Carly McGowan and Megan Carney.
Archmere coach Mary Pat Kwoka praised Eppes’ contributions to the program over the past few years.
“Cara Eppes is a leader. She’s the first one in the gym, she’s the last one to leave. She has a tremendous amount of energy, and she has passion for the game. She’s just an outstanding volleyball player, person and athlete,’ Kwoka said.
As the setter, Eppes is the quarterback on the court, the coach said. She is responsible for setting the tempo and calling the sets.
“She makes good set selections, and she’s a tremendous defensive player,” Kwoka said.
Archmere’s lone loss this year was at St. Mark’s, the defending state champion. If the two teams were to meet again, it would be in the championship match as the No. 3-ranked Spartans are on the other side of the bracket.
Kwoka would not look any further than Caravel. “It’s a well-coached team. We’ve got to prepare for practice (Monday) and worry about Tuesday.”
If Archmere were to break through with a title, it would be the school’s first since back-to-back wins in 1986 and ’87. Since 1993, only Ursuline (10 championships) and St. Mark’s (eight) have won it all. Archmere’s last appearance in the championship game was in 2008, when it lost to Ursuline.
Following her sister
Eppes began playing volleyball as a fourth-grader at St. Mary Magdalen School in Brandywine Hundred, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Marissa, who also played at St. Mary Magdalen and Archmere.
“I watched her play volleyball here, and it made me kind of want that because I saw her team and how good they were and how much fun it looked like. That definitely turned me on to Archmere. I didn’t really have a strong desire to go to other places,” she said.
She likes the school, she said, because of the people and the atmosphere. She appreciates the rigorous academics and said nearly all of her time goes toward schoolwork when she is not playing volleyball.
Along with volleyball, Eppes was involved with cheerleading and gymnastics, and she ran track as a freshman, but since then she has concentrated on volleyball. She has played for several club teams and may do so again this year once the high school season is over.
She is in the process of applying to colleges and is undecided about a major, although she said she enjoys science. She would like to stay relatively close to home, saying James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., is the farthest from home she has considered. Wherever she ends up, she will likely continue with volleyball, but on the club level, not varsity.
For now, Eppes will concentrate on her academics and her senior year, “just try to enjoy it and savor it because there’s not much time left.”
No doubt she’ll enjoy it more if it it includes a celebration this Sunday in Newark.
Update: Archmere earned a trip to the final with a 3-0 win over Padua Thursday night at St. Mark’s. The Auks will face defending champion St. Mark’s, which defeated Wilmington Friends, 3-1.
State volleyball tournament final (updated)
Sunday at the Bob Carpenter Center, University of Delaware, Newark
No. 3 St. Mark’s vs. No. 1 Archmere, approx. 5 p.m.
No. 4 Padua vs. No. 2 Wilmington Friends, 4 p.m., best of three consolation match