Salem — We’re about 35-40% through the season and every classification seems to be muddied except for 6A. However, contrary to what the 2A Coaches Poll indicates, I’m declaring that 2A is chasing the Salem Academy, they are the #1 team in Class 2A, and that I don’t think anyone is strong or deep enough to withstand the Crusaders for the state title this season. This will be unpopular with Gaston and Vernonia, who are solid programs and field good teams this season, but I haven’t seen evidence convincing me that they can defeat the Salem Academy. After they won their tournament against 3A power Horizon Christian and a solid 3A Harrisburg team, it leaves them with a lone loss to 3A Catlin Gabel since they avenged their loss to Horizon Christian from earlier in the season.
The Crusaders are a well gelled, tactically sound, talented group, led by their two way star Junior Aly Herber. Herber was an absolute beast on Saturday, taking control of a game at her own will against Horizon Christian and Harrisburg, putting up blocks on the best of each team and throwing down forceful kills of her own. Senior Aubrey Smith doubles up as the outside threat for Salem Academy, utilizing a high volleyball IQ and athletic ability to do everything from setting, to throwing down kills, to getting those hard to get digs. Dylainee Carmony has emerged as a rising star on this championship caliber roster, going from a frustrating Spring season to finding her groove this fall and becoming a huge contributor on defense. She’s shown flashes of offensive brilliance, but I note her more as a blocking asset alongside Herber. The libero Annabelle Brawley is a presence all over the floor and is constantly digging out tough kill attempts, but her presence is so incredible to this Crusader team. Let’s also not leave behind their Rockstar setter Bailey Pedersen, whose ball placement, hustle, and flexible roleplay is irreplaceable.
As a team, the only liability I can identify is their erratic serving, which was on display at times against Horizon Christian but was cleaned up with Harrisburg. The self-inflicted wounds of net violations, back row attacks, and double hitting were very hard to find, the exact things that got them off to bad starts with Catlin Gabel and Horizon Christian. They look more confident and have chemistry that was unbreakable, completely punishing opponents who failed to adjust to their style of play. Opponents no longer dictate the Crusader gameplay, the Crusaders dictate their opponents gameplay. All in all, the Salem Academy are the most well-rounded team in 2A and they proved it on Saturday, which is how I come to the conclusion that they are the favorites to win the state title. They have size, chemistry, terrific coaching, and an unbeatable team culture, all the components of a championship destiny lying ahead this fall. Take my assertion to the bank, the 2021 2A State Champions should be the Salem Academy Crusaders and anyone who wants it will have to play lights out to get it from them.