Because of Hurricane Matthew messing up the schedules for several teams in the East, this year’s NCHSAA volleyball tournament is a marathon in which the eventual state champion will have to win six matches in 11 days.
It’s survival of the fittest, and any team with designs on winning it had better be in top form.
North Surry looked like a definite contender in its first-round playoff match against East Rutherford on Wednesday night.
The Lady Greyhounds, eight-time reigning champs of the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference, twice the state champion during that run, and ranked No. 5 in the 2A ranks by MaxPreps.com, opened their pursuit of a third crown with a 25-11, 25-13, 25-9 victory in the Ron King Gymnasium.
North Surry (23-4) advances to a second-round matchup tonight against Mountain Heritage, the third-place team in the Western Highlands 1A/2A. The Lady Cougars (18-4) beat South Stokes in straight sets to open the playoffs on Wednesday.
Against East Rutherford (10-11), the Lady Hounds led from start to finish. They won three of the first four points of the first set before the Cavaliers rallied to pull within 5-4. However, North Surry got on a roll from that point forward, extending its lead to 10-5 before Claire Jackson made a kill to get the visitors back on the board. However, they quickly lost possession on a service error, and Mikaela Johnson smashed one across the net off a perfect set from Dixie Fulk and the Lady Hounds quickly pushed their lead to eight before Makenna Teague stopped the bleeding again. However, this left North with a 14-7 lead and nothing East Rutherford could do stopped their momentum. The Lady Hounds eventually won the set 25-11.
Teague tried to set an early tone for East in set two, scoring a quick kill from the outside, but Johnson answered for North Surry and the teams went made mini-runs at each other in the early going. The visitors won four straight points before Johnson put a ball off Teague to put the Lady Hounds on top, and then Paige Sizemore fired a kill into the back corner of the Cavaliers’ side. With her team’s lead down to 5-4, Amaiya Williams responded for East, which kept a slight lead on the scoreboard until Sizemore put a ball off Williams at the net to tie the score at 6. Martha Holt served an ace to put North on top, and a block by Kaylee Freed, followed by a dink shot from Whitney Hall, extended the lead.
East Rutherford never recovered from this. North Surry extended the lead to 15-9 before Cavaliers coach Jessica Goforth called timeout, but the Lady Hounds scored twice more before East got back on the board. At 17-10, Hall began delivering a series of hard serves that resulted in a couple of aces and a lot of trouble for the Cavaliers. At 23-11, Jackson got a block that ended the streak and kept the set alive for a few more points, but no more.
Set three opened with a Johnson spike followed by a block, then Hall scoring a kill from the outside off a ball that she played two feet out of bounds. Then Fulk served an ace. Moments later came back-to-back thunderous kills from Johnson, and North Surry already led 9-0 before the Cavaliers got on the board on a kill by Teague.
However, there was no rally by East Rutherford. The visitors closed to within 11-5 at one point, but a Sizemore kill followed by a Maggie Hawks service ace pushed the margin back to 13-5, and the rest was just playing out the string.
Johnson led the team with 12 kills and three blocks, and was complemented well by outstanding play from Hall, who had seven kills and three aces. Fulk had 28 of her team’s 30 assists, with the other two going to Holt, who also had four kills, three aces and six digs. Hawks added 11 digs and Fulk nine.
The Lady Hounds committed just four service errors in the match, one of their lowest totals of the season.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.