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WILMINGTON – There’s no question one of the building blocks for a successful high school program comes from countless hours and dedication from the team’s head coach.

For Tonya Upton, the foundation has been laid through her nearly three decades at Wilmington Christian Academy (WCA). The fruits of her labor have been equally impressive as the Patriots look to continue their dominance this fall as three-time defending North Carolina Christian School Association (NCCSA) 3A Champions.

“WCA volleyball has never changed,” Upton said. “We’re always going to be as fundamentally sound as possible. We start from square one every year. That has always been the basis of what we try to do here.”

Last year’s title was Upton’s 11th championship during her tenure at WCA. While a state title in itself is an accomplishment for her, the team and program, the realization of all the hard work became evident following a mid-October non-conference victory against local powerhouse, Hoggard, during the 2015 campaign.

The four-set win was Upton’s 500th career result as the two schools faced off in volleyball for the first time since sometime in the 1990s. WCA concluded last season with a 28-3 record.

The Patriots have set themselves apart when it’s comes to competition inside NCCSA thanks to a committed group-focus on the little things.  The dedication set forth during preseason training, with the entire roster back from last season, has them poised for another run at a state title. Non-conference foes across the Wilmington area that once had an edge on the smaller private school should take note, WCA volleyball is here to stay.

The determination of this group was on display Monday night as WCA rolled to a straight set 3-0 victory over Topsail. The Patriots battled from early deficits in the opening two games thanks to the squad’s resiliency.

A well-balanced attack and strong defense will be the key to the Patriots’ success this season. With junior Ellie Kohl returning as the team’s leading hitter, alongside seniors Abby Squires and Kayla Ball, Wilmington Christian has a good mix up front. Senior setter Caroline Fountain provides consistency in the passing game, while sophomores Sam Fowler and Cassie Taylor look to make a bigger impact. Senior Kassi Herchenhahn and junior Georgia Davis also give the Patriots presence at net.

The Patriots will host other local teams this upcoming weekend as part of its annual Tidal Wave Tournament set for Aug. 26-27, ahead of the first of two matches scheduled against Hoggard on Monday, Aug. 29.