Sometimes, style matters as much as skill in volleyball, and for a time at the start of North Surry’s third-round match with Mount Pleasant, the Lady Hounds were clearly behind the eight-ball.
The Lady Tigers rode the hot hand of senior middle hitter Kaylah Sloop and a flurry of well-placed shots to stun the home team by nine points in the opening set, then held an early lead in set two before North Surry finally got its attack going and took the lead. Even then, it took a while for the Lady Hounds to get used to Mount Pleasant’s finesse.
“They came out and played well, and we just weren’t playing really smart,” said North Surry coach Shane Slate. “They have a different style of play than (second-round opponent) North Lincoln. North Lincoln was just swinging away, and for the most part, Mount Pleasant was looking for a hole. We were out of position and got caught watching a lot, especially in that first set.”
North Surry rallied for a 16-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17 victory over the Tigers, who like North, entered the match unbeaten against 2A competition. The Lady Hounds, now 28-1 on the year, will host East Lincoln on Saturday in a state quarterfinal match. The Mustangs (25-5), champions of the South Fork Conference, defeated R-S Central on Thursday.
North started the match off well, with Evann Shelnutt serving back-to-back aces, but that was about the last thing the team did well in set one. The Tigers’ Sloop and Trinity Bolt were both hitting the ball well off strong setting from Gracen Osborne, while the Lady Hounds were often hitting the ball long even when the defense made the play. Paige Sizemore got a ball off Sloop’s hands to pull North back within 10-8, but then Mount Pleasant made things really unpleasant for MaxPreps’ top-ranked 2A team, going on a 7-2 run to lead 17-10. North never got closer than five again.
“15 (Sloop) has a nice touch, but even she’s mostly looking for a spot. The rest of them aren’t as big a hitter as she is, but they do a great job of finding spots,” said Slate. “We were looking for swings and getting that instead, and we did a good job adjusting.”
It was Sizemore, who had 16 kills with just one attack error in the match, who sparked North in set two. After scoring a kill at 4-5, she stepped back to the service line and delivered back-to-back aces as part of a 5-0 run that gave her team a 9-5 edge. Then the Tigers did what they did best, and back-to-back dump shots pulled them within 10-8. Unfortunately for Mount Pleasant, Sizemore had brought the thunder and Mikaela Johnson brought the lightning, spiking three balls over the next few minutes to keep her team in front. After Sloop scored to make it 15-13, the Tigers looked poised for a rally when Sizemore ran down a bad bump and returned it from well out of bounds for a kill. Then Dixie Fulk sent a set all the way across the court to her for another kill and a 17-13 lead. The visitors would never get any closer than that. At 21-17, Johnson crushed a ball for a side-out and Fulk served out the match, with Martha Holt, Fulk and Johnson all making great plays on the ensuing rallies.
Johnson crushed two more to start set three, but Mount Pleasant answered back and soon led the set 8-4. North won the next four points and tied it on a block by Emma Haynes, who was playing one of her best matches of the season.
“Emma gave us a nice boost in the middle,” said Slate. “Tonight was by far the best she match she’s had. She hit .545 tonight, and you like to see that from your middle hitter.”
The Tigers again built a three-point lead, but then the Lady Hounds decided it was time to turn the Paige on this set for good.
It started with Sizemore scoring a kill that put her on serve. At 11-12, Bolt thought she had a kill, but Sizemore dove for the ball an inch from the floor, and sent it back across the net into an open space for a kill. She scored another kill to make it 14-12 before making a rare mistake, serving it into the net. However, the Lady Hounds were in front and weren’t giving the lead back. Sloop started scoring kills for Mount Pleasant, but Haynes and then Johnson answered her, and then Johnson blasted another one to make it 17-14. The Tigers made one final push and closed to within 19-18 before Haynes scored another block. North battled to set point at 24-20, but the visitors died hard, winning the next three before Johnson crushed a ball off Sloop’s block attempt to finally win the set.
“They are very, very good,” said Mount Pleasant coach Veronica Sanders. “We played a hard team and a tough competitor and the scores were tight. We should have done a little bit better, but that’s OK, we did the best we could.”
Mount Pleasant (26-2) led set four early when Osborne served back-to-back aces. They led 6-4 after Sloop scored a kill and then served an ace, but two kills by Sizemore around a Tiger error pulled it even again. She and Sloop traded kills and then the Tigers hit one long, and North had the lead for good. Sizemore blocked Malli Weems, then rejected a shot by Bolt, then fired a kill into the back left corner of the court for a 12-8 lead and forced Sanders to call time-out. At 14-9, there was a controversial call when Mount Pleasant appeared to hit a ball long, but the officials ruled it had been touched by a Lady Hound. This seemed to fluster the home team for a while, and Sloop pulled her team within two on three occasions, the last at 16-14. Johnson put a ball off Sloop for a three-point lead, which became four on a kill by Holt. At 19-16, North reeled off five straight points, including an ace by Johnson, to reach match point. The Tigers saved the first point, but Johnson finished it off on the next.
The outstanding play of Johnson (17 kills) and Sizemore, who had 11 digs to go with her 16 kills, paced North’s attack, but after the Lady Hounds made adjustments to Mount Pleasant’s style of play, strong defense from Shelnutt (20 digs), Fulk (16 digs to go with 40 assists), and good all-around play by Haynes (six kills, no attack errors) and Holt (five kills, 13 digs) also contributed to the win.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.