Winning a state championship wasn’t just a goal for Nola McAfee, it was pretty much an expectation. After growing up watching two older family members win titles with Winona High School, McAfee needed to keep the tradition going.
McAfee’s cousin (2001) and sister (2006) led the Class 1 school, located about 45 miles northeast of West Plains in Shannon County, to state crowns. They always let McAfee know it, too.
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“I heard it all the time (from them),” McAfee said. “And they (won) it as sophomores, too. Since I didn’t win until my junior year, they were asking me when I’d win mine.”
It took a little long to gets hers, but McAfee finally gave Winona another state title in volleyball. The 6’1” middle/outside hitter was a six-rotation player for Winona, which finished 31-7-1 after beating Bernie in the state finals last November in Cape Girardeau.
Even more impressive: Winona did not lose to a Class 1 school all season.
The Lady Wildcats played a challenging schedule that included large schools such as Willard, Glendale, Jefferson City Helias, Kirkwood, Oakville and Carl Junction. Winona even beat Glendale in three sets in a rematch at the Willard Tournament in early September.
The non-conference scheduling paid off in the long run for the Lady Wildcats.
“It really helped prepare us,” McAfee said. “Playing those big schools, it helped us get ready to play the best teams in our class that we’d see at state.”
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Like it had done most of the season, Winona beat Santa Fe 2-0 and Bernie 2-0 at state. Winona only lost one set to a Class 1 team all season – in a 2-1 September meeting with Eminence, which beat the Lady Wildcats in the 2011 district finals before going on to win state that year.
“We weren’t intimidated by anyone,” McAfee said. “We knew we’d play good teams at state, but we weren’t afraid. We heard Bernie had a really good defense and Santa Fe and Osceola had good hitters, but we were ready.”
McAfee was a big part of Winona’s dominance. She never came off the court, playing every point in the 2012 season for the Lady Wildcats.
She was second on the team in kills (320, 50.2 kill percentage), second in total blocks (99) and first in assists (397). McAfee was actually new to the setter’s role.
“I liked being in there at all times,” McAfee said. “I wanted to contribute however I could. This was the first year I played setter, I hadn’t done it before and I struggled a bit at first, but I started to get better and by the end of the season learned what I needed to do when I was in that position.”
On the trip home after winning state, McAfee got the celebration ceremony she’d been waiting for.
“We got back that night and went to the school, and the firetrucks were out and we got the police escort,” McAfee said. “Half the town was there at the school to congratulate us.
“I always remember seeing my cousin and sister get that escort.”
Winona figures to be a contender again in 2013, bringing backs its top two offensive players in McAfee and junior-to-be Rachel Holthaus.
And if Winona wins a second state championship in McAfee’s career, she might finally have the bragging rights over her cousin and sister.
Getting to know Nola McAfee
Favorite athlete: Destinee Hooker
Favorite team: St. Louis Cardinals
Pregame superstition: The night before a game, when I shower I always have to use the soap, shampoo and everything in the same order.
Most disliked athlete: Albert Pujols
Favorite movie: Transformers
Favorite musical artist: Luke Bryan
Favorite actor: Will Ferrell
Favorite athletic memory: One time in practice, we were doing this drill where we’d get in a line, hit the ball, then run to the opposite end and touch the wall. As I was coming back from the wall, one of our other middles hit the ball. The ball hit my feet, , I tripped and did a complete faceplant.
Song on your iPod most people wouldn’t expect: Fishin’ in the Dark, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Hidden talent: I can take the top half of my ear and fold it inside my ear