BOONVILLE — The intense volleyball rivalry between Starmount and North Surry added another chapter Saturday night in the 2A state quarterfinals.
Behind a rowdy blue-and-orange clad crowd at home, the Lady Rams jumped out to a 2-0 lead and looked poised to roll past their bitter rivals. But the Lady Greyhounds dug deep and reeled off wins in three-straight games to pull the upset and leave Starmount stunned.
After falling behind by two games, North blew out the Rams in the third set, 25-9, before rallying from a 24-20 hole in the fourth game to force a decisive fifth set. In the final game, the Hounds scored the final five points to close out their rivals 15-10 to advance to the state semifinals.
Starmount (28-3 coming into the match) is the only team to beat North Surry (31-2) this season. The Rams won in four sets the first time, then in five sets in the rematch.
This time, the fireworks started early on as the two 2A powerhouses traded blows reminiscent of a heavyweight boxing match.
Starmount opened on a 2-0 run and held an 8-6 advantage early. But North remained close as the teams battled to a 13-13 tie.
Later in the opening set, the Rams flexed their muscles and grabbed a 19-16 lead, leading to a Greyhound timeout. Coming out of the break, North scored the next three points to tie things up at 19-all.
With the game still tied at 24-24, Erin Barr smacked a service ace for the Rams before Haley Hartman’s ensuing kill was blocked out of bounds to give Starmount an early 1-0 advantage.
North came out on fire in the second game, jumping out to a 7-2 lead, leading to a Ram timeout.
Starmount responded and scored seven of the next nine points to tie the set at 9-9. Later in the game, a long rally point was finally killed by Ashton Gregory to give the Rams a 13-11 lead in a momentum-changing play.
From there, Starmount outscored North 12-7 to win the set 25-18 to grab a 2-0 match advantage.
With the opportunity to sweep their rivals, the Rams seemingly fell asleep in the third game as the Hounds came out on fire.
North opened on an 8-3 run and grabbed a 17-6 lead to silence the rowdy crowd. The Greyhounds never let Starmount recover, easily coasting to a 25-9 victory to stay alive.
In the fourth, North once again came out strong, grabbing an 8-3 lead. But the Rams once again battled back as Starmount’s anchor Gregory led the way to tie things up at 16-all.
Later in the set, the Rams scored five-straight points to grab a 24-20 lead and push the Hounds to the brink.
But North scored the final six points of the 26-24 set to force the decisive fifth set.
In the final frame, the Greyhounds bounced back from a slow start to tie things up at 8-8 and 10-all. North reeled off the final five points to pull off the improbable comeback to advance in the 2A state playoffs.
“Obviously we are extremely pleased to be back in the regional finals,” said North Coach Shane Slate. “It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, easy.”
“The caliber of talent on the floor was … state-championship quality,” Slate said. In the past three seasons, the Hounds and Rams have provided two of the three state titles.
Asked how North pulled out the win, Slate said, “The biggest thing was the way we responded.”
Outside hitter Taylor Hill was out with an illness, which affected the team’s rotation. Then the team went down 0-2.
Rather than fold, Slate said the team finally began to establish some offensive rhythm in the third set.
There were some effort plays that turned it around, he noted. Someone got a big block, then someone made a nice dig, and another player hit a big spike for a kill. That led to a decisive 25-9 set that gave the Hounds confidence.
However, Starmount was determined not to let the Hounds back into the match and took a 24-20 lead.
North Surry made a couple of nice plays, then Starmount hit a ball long to reach that 24-all tie, Slate described. The Hounds then won the frame 26-24, finishing with six straight points.
“We responded all night,” he said. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of with these kids.”
This is a team that can perform very well, but hasn’t always played with the best effort or focus, said the coach.
The Hounds swept McMichael 3-0 and beat 4A Reagan 3-1, a team that beat Starmount at the start of the season. Then there have been sets where the concentration has wavered, and the team has given up several points before waking up.
Playing against Starmount brought out a tougher mental state that the team will need in every set from this point on, he pointed out.
Slate said the team’s three seniors all had big nights: Maddison Hawks, Molly Martin and Kristina Rumplasch. None of them are overly vocal, he said, but they made plays and led by example.
North Surry (31-2) will host the West regional final Tuesday against Polk County (22-5), the top team from the Western Highlands Conference.
Slate said he would be in touch with Polk officials to see whether the match will begin at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Tuesday.