What do dimes, chicken wings and pancakes have in common? Volleyball. The uniqueness of the volleyball language sets itself apart from the rest. The history of volleyball at O’Neal, particularly in the 1990s, is also in a league of its own. Volleyball was one of the first sports introduced at O’Neal with the earliest account in 1973 and the home games were played “under the pines”.
The 80’s came around and the sport grew stronger in fact it was the beginning of 17 consecutive years of winning the conference championship (1983-1999) as a Division 1A school and again in 2007 as a Division 2A school.
The undefeated 1986 volleyball team made it to the state championship and was defeated by Pender Academy. O’Neal’s Director of Alumni Relations Blanche Slade Hancock ‘88 was a member of that team and was titled MVP by the conference in the 1987 season. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, she coached volleyball for St. Mary’s high school team.
Blanche reflects on her O’Neal volleyball experience – “We started volleyball young in the 80’s, taught by Bill MacDonald. He was the varsity coach prior to Cindy Smith (Strickland) and it was seemingly his goal in life to make sure that we girls learned volleyball as early as possible. So, by the time we were in 7th grade, those of us who had been in PE class with Mr. MacDonald had already become good players. Because of his training, we were able to teach our new coaches the game as they were also learning the world of coaching volleyball. Thus we became very close. It was kind of a typical ‘O’Neal in the 80’s’ thing.”
Mrs. Hancock has certain memories that come to mind for O’Neal volleyball including August tryouts in a hot Tate Gym; riding in the 15-passenger van to games with music blaring from the boombox and Coach Smith getting lost; the hard work, the passion of the matches and friendships as well as learning from Quinten VanCamp ’85 and Alison Sullivan Rhyne ‘86 and then helping lead the team as upperclassmen.
The teams of the late 80’s set the stage for great success in the 90’s all under the coaching of Cindy Strickland (formerly Cindy Smith). Coach Strickland reflects, “I walked into the O’Neal gym for my first volleyball practice in August 1984. I had one senior, one junior, and five or six freshmen wanting to play. I won’t give their names, but I remember each one. They were good athletes and were willing to work hard. They learned how to play as a team, which is extremely important. After hours and hours of practice, we started our season playing some larger schools like Ravenscroft and Durham Academy, so by the time we were into conference matches we were ready! We won the conference championship in 1984. O’Neal volleyball went to the state tournament that year for the first time and lost to Forsyth Country Day. That was the beginning!
In 1984 and for the next 15 years the O’Neal volleyball team was conference champions. In 1989 O’Neal won the state volleyball championship tournament and went on to win it 9 of the next 10 years.
The attitude of a coach is very important. A coach must know the sport and love it. You must be willing to work hard and expect the same from your players. But to really be successful, you must make it fun, even the practices. The attitude must be to work hard and have fun doing it!
Volleyball is such a team sport. You want three people to touch the ball each time it crosses the net from the serve. This teaches players to be close knit.
Winning is very important, but the most important thing to me was watching the girls have fun and seeing their eyes light up when they make a great play, winning a match that you know you probably shouldn’t have won, and seeing all those hours you have put in pay off.
Through teaching physical education in the middle school, I was able to work with girls on their volleyball skills from fifth grade on. I coached middle school, JV, and varsity volleyball, so by the time they were seniors I had many of the girls for eight years. I knew what to expect from them and they knew what to expect from me.
However, without the support of parents, faculty, and administration at O’Neal, the volleyball team would not have been nearly as successful. The first year when the team qualified for the state tournament our headmaster, Bob Haarlow, allowed a bus load of students to come to Raleigh to watch, cheer, and support us. That was so exciting for our team!
I knew then that The O’Neal School was truly something special!”
Sisters Ginny Quis Sloan ’96 and Roberta Quis Fox ‘99 both played volleyball for Davidson College. At Davidson, Ginny holds the record (1996-1999) for Career Assists at 2608. Roberta holds the record (1999-2002) for Career Kills at 1233, Career Attack Percentage at .308, and Career Blocks at 431.
“When I think of O’Neal volleyball, I think of Coach Cindy Strickland,” says Roberta. “As my PE teacher starting in kindergarten, she had us working on volleyball passes and serves long before we could play middle school volleyball. Coach Strickland loved the game of volleyball and she helped instill a love of the game in me. There were lots of wins under Coach Strickland, but what I remember the most is loving the experience so much that I didn’t want to stop playing volleyball.”
The 1990s were the golden years for O’Neal Volleyball. In 2001, O’Neal grew to move up to Division 2A with a different set of competition from larger schools. As a 2A school, O’Neal Volleyball has seen a conference championship title in 2007.
The year 2010 was big for middle school sports with boys’ soccer and volleyball both winning their conference championship. In 2018 O’Neal Middle School Volleyball was conference runner-up. This year, MS volleyball has made it to the championship game scheduled for October 20th at Freedom Christian Academy.
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388