OCEAN — Volleyball vans love to watch five-set matches.
Coaches also don’t mind the occasional one to see how their team reacts under pressure.
And what about players, do they like them?
Not so much.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go to five sets,” Gracie D’Amico said with a laugh. “They’re exciting, but they’re tiring.”
The Croatan senior need not worry. Her team has captured all but one of its nine victories in straight sets. The Cougars (9-2) have won seven in a row including sweeping rivals Dixon and Richlands.
Croatan is 5-0 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference and is the only team to defeat Dixon (8-3 overall, 3-1 league) and Richlands (7-3, 4-1) in conference play. The Cougars throttled Dixon 25-8, 25-9, 25-13 and beat Richlands 25-18, 25-20, 25-15.
“We weren’t expecting that kind of Dixon win at all,” D’Amico said. “We told a ton of people from school to come out because it was going to be a good game and then it ended up the way it did. People asked me what happened.”
D’Amico has put together quite a volleyball career at Croatan.
Last year, she tied for first on the team with 100 kills, ranked second with 26 aces and was third with 66 digs. She was the only member of the team to have over 90 kills, 60 digs and 20 aces.
She’s continued that fine all-around play this season with 62 kills, 71 digs and 20 aces.
During her first two seasons, she played on a junior varsity team that went a combined 24-0. Her freshman squad went 10-0 and lost just two sets while her sophomore club went 14-0 and didn’t lose a set.
In her first full season on the varsity, the Cougars went 7-0 in the Coastal 8 and dropped just one set. And now this year’s team is 5-0 in league play with only one lost set. In 36 career league matches, D’Amico’s teams have gone unbeaten and won 108 of 112 sets.
Croatan also advanced to the third round of the 2A playoffs last season.
“I wish we could have made it further, and I think we could have but we got in our heads,” D’Amico said. “We’re looking like a good team this year and I’m optimistic about how it’s going to turn out, especially when we get in the playoffs. I think we’re going to do extremely well and get past the third round this year.”
While things were going well on the court last season, things were tough off it. The Cougars’ seven conference matches were due to Hurricane Florence shortening the schedule.
The team’s gym suffered significant damage from the storm so Croatan practiced at five different sites (Sports Center of Morehead City, Newport Middle School, Emerald Isle Parks & Recreation, Swansboro High School and West Carteret High School). Home matches were played at West Carteret and Newport Middle.
D’Amico wasn’t just impacted by the storm at school, but at her Emerald Isle home as well. The house has been gutted and only the roof has been replaced.
“We were at home and part of our ceiling fell in,” she said. “And water ran down our support beams and got in the walls.”
A year later, she and her family have been in two different houses and are still renting a house in her neighborhood. They aren’t expected to return to their home until spring.
“It’s been very hard,” D’Amico said. “It made school, life, more stressful. It was definitely a distraction to play last year. It was nice to not think about what was going on at home. But I’m very thankful for the houses we’ve been in.”
D’Amico hasn’t limited her high school success to the volleyball court.
As a sophomore, she was part of two state championship 1,600-meter relay teams. Trinity White, Maleia Smith, Kaleigh Hanson and D’Amico won gold in 4 minutes, 15.16 seconds at the 1A/2A winter indoor meet and the same quartet won in the spring in 4:02.93.
They qualified for the New Balance Track and Field Outdoor Nationals and competed in the 1,600-meter sprint medley in the emerging elite category, taking 11th out of 42 teams with a 4:12.67 time.
“Those were really good experiences,” D’Amico said. “It’s great having a connection with the people you’re running with. You have to know everybody’s timing.”
An honor roll student, she figures her athletic days will likely come to an end after high school thanks to choosing a demanding college major. D’Amico plans on attending UNC-Wilmington to study nursing.
“It would be very difficult to continue playing sports with that major,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll play on club teams.”
Here are a few of D’Amico’s favorite things, as well as her ideal group to survive a zombie apocalypse and the five items she would take with her on a deserted island:
Favorite Movie: “Good Will Hunting.”
Favorite TV Show: “Forensic Files.”
Favorite Cartoon: “Bob’s Burgers.”
Favorite Band/Artist: Iann Dior.
Favorite Song: “Honesty” by Pink Sweat$.
Favorite Book: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Favorite Team: Duke Blue Devils volleyball.
Favorite Athlete: Kerrie Walsh Jennings.
Favorite Vacation: Staying on a Christmas tree farm in Watauga County for a week.
Favorite Hobby: Finding shark’s teeth.
Favorite Subject: Science.
Favorite Quote: “Don’t stop until you’re proud.”
Favorite Food: Filet mignon.
Favorite Drink: Sweat tea.
Favorite Restaurant: Kathryn’s.
Favorite Season: Summer.
Favorite Sports Memory: Beating Dixon for the conference championship, and then going on a winning streak to make it to the third round of the playoffs.
Favorite Teacher: Ms. Yani Schick.
Favorite Sport: Volleyball.
Favorite Pre-Game/Post-Game Ritual: Riding the bus with everyone and warming up with everyone in the hallway and then getting each other hype for the game.
Favorite Website/App: Snapchat.
Favorite Follow on Twitter/Instagram: @cohmedy.
Ideal Group To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse: Annie McLean, Savannah McAloon, Kelly Hagerty, Natalie Show and Jacob Boucher.
Items For A Deserted Island: A volleyball, TV, speaker for music, favorite bathing suit and phone.