It was a little strange to see East Surry called the “home” team on the scoreboard in the Howard Finch Gym of arch-rival Mount Airy, but for the last four years, anywhere has been home when it’s been Northwest 1A Conference tournament time.
The Lady Cardinals strutted their stuff in a dominating first set against North Stokes on Tuesday evening, then cruised in the final two for a 25-5, 25-15, 25-15 victory that propelled them into tonight’s championship match.
East Surry will play for its fifth consecutive NW1A tournament title tonight at 5 p.m. The Lady Cardinals will be facing Mount Airy in the championship match for the third consecutive season. The host Lady Bears (13-11) beat South Stokes in Tuesday’s second semifinal.
The Lady Cardinals upset regular-season champion Mount Airy 3-2 in the 2015 final, played at East, then downed them 3-1 last year in a championship match on its home court. This time, it will be the Lady Bears’ turn to host.
There was never much doubt that East Surry (23-2 overall) would be in the finals. The Lady Cardinals, who came in on a 13-match winning streak, won the first five points of the match and forced Lady Viking coach Christine Condon into a quick time-out. Meredith Rasey scored a point for Stokes coming out of that break, but East kept the pressure on. The Lady Cardinals won the next point and then Morgan Smith served off 10 straight East Surry points, including one on an ace, before Lora Wood put a kill away for North Stokes. Even so, there was little the Lady Vikings could do in a set where their foes were clicking on all cylinders.
The second set was much more competitive. The Lady Cardinals had a 4-0 run to lead 6-2, but couldn’t shake Stokes, which was getting more solid play from junior co-captains Rasey and Wood. The Lady Vikings were within 8-6 when Bethany Clayton scored from near the backline and sparked her team on a 10-5 run, in which she uncharacteristically made three errors that led to Stokes points. However, she redeemed herself on the last rally of that stretch of points, when the senior All-State candidate made a sensational play on a ball that appeared headed for the bleacher seats and got it back across the net. Play continued after that and Sarah Marion eventually won the rally for the Lady Cardinals for an 18-11 lead. North Stokes won a few more points down the stretch, but never got back into the set.
The early part of the third set saw the Lady Vikings, who’d reached the semifinals with an upset over higher-seeded Bishop McGuinness the night before, continue to play like they thought they could beat East. The score was 10-9 in the Lady Cards’ favor when Maggie Holt drilled her second hard kill of the set, and from there East Surry finally began to build a comfortable cushion. Clayton had winners on a spike and a dink shot as the regular-season champs built a 16-10 lead. A service error handed possession to Stokes, but the Lady Cardinals won the next point and sent Kelsey Heflin to the service line. The sophomore hammered a serve that one of the Stokes backliners could do more with than send it floating back across the net — right into the hands of Clayton, who crushed it. That put East in front 18-11, but the Lady Vikings won four of the next six points before Allie Bruner hit a crosscourt shot for a 21-15 lead. East Surry caught a break when a return by Marion tickled the top of the net and then landed on the Stokes side for a point. They called time-out, but East Surry won the last three points, including an ace by Jessica Clayton and and a kill from Holt to earn its 14th consecutive victory of the season.
Bethany Clayton had 16 kills, three blocks and 24 digs for the winners, leading East Surry in all three categories. Holt had seven kills, with Marion and Bruner each collecting five. Smith served five aces and Bruner three. Smith also had 19 digs, followed by Bruner with 15. Heflin was credited with 32 assists.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.