Not until a few weeks ago did the weight of the idea that her high school career was ending finally hit Carter Cloud.
The Heritage Hall senior had been so focused on getting her team prepared for a run at the Class 5A state volleyball championship, that the fact it would be her last hadn't hit home.
Now, she only has a maximum of three matches — and she hopes three wins — left in her career.
“We had Senior Night last week, and it was so surreal to have to think it was my last game,” Cloud said. “I didn't even know how important it was going to be to me, but for the last month, I've just been counting down to this. The fact that we're going to be going for that state championship this weekend is so insane to me. I can't believe this is the last one.”
Class 5A's top-ranked Chargers open against last year's Class 4A champion, Lincoln Christian, at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Westmoore High School. The 5A and 6A semifinals and finals are Saturday at Westmoore.
Cloud is the only Heritage Hall senior, and she has yet to experience a state championship, despite seeing the team win four straight before her freshman year.
This year's team has been rejoined by head coach Bill Hamiter, who coached the title teams before leaving to focus on his work with the USA Paralympic sitting-volleyball team.
Hamiter helped last year's Chargers, and resumed head coaching duties this year, despite missing some time to go to London for the 2012 Paralympics.
Former Heritage Hall player Dana Dobson filled in during his absence, but the team never seemed to be bothered by the transitions, compiling a 24-2 record against some of the state's top teams.
“We knew it would be hectic, so we just had to plan for it, and Dana has done a great job,” Hamiter said. “In spite of everything that has gone on, things have been pretty stable.
“There has been some good leadership, and this team, as much as any team I've coached, has remained emotionally stable. There are no big highs or big lows.”
As the team's lone senior, Cloud deserves some of that credit, and she enjoyed watching the team come together so quickly. Only two other starters returned in juniors Bradi Ryan and Lindsey Grace, with primarily sophomores and freshmen filling other roles.
Now, Cloud is ready to finish what the Chargers couldn't last year, when they lost in the title game to Cascia Hall.
“Losing last year gave us the will to come back and try and get one,” she said. “When we beat Cascia Hall early in the season, it fired us up and gave us confidence and that boost we needed to get going.”