It was a routine day at the office for the state’s top-ranked 2A team. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
North Surry was two points away from a dominant straight-set victory over cross-town rival Mount Airy when the Lady Bears mounted a furious rally, one that had Lady Greyhounds head coach Shane Slate resolve to make his team prove they were worthy of their lofty ranking and accolades.
“(Those were) routine plays that we ought to make,” said Slate of a 10-1 Mount Airy run late in Monday’s non-conference match. “We have to have a little grit and be able to finish sets and matches and sometimes we take it for granted. That’s what happened in that third set, and they were going to sink or swim on their own as far as I was concerned.”
Mount Airy (4-6 overall) had lost the first two sets and was down 23-13 at one point in the third. Head coach Chuck Morris had already used both of his time-outs to try to reverse the trend, without success. Then North Surry’s Martha Holt made a bad serve and the Lady Bears came alive. Madeline Mayfield crushed a ball off Karlie Marion, Avery Cox score an on-two kill to make it 23-16, and then she served back-to-back aces. Mayfield whacked a ball just inside the North Surry back line. The Lady Hounds committed a double-hit violation, and then Piper Draughon followed Mayfield’s example with a perfectly placed ball for a kill. The Lady Bears had scored eight straight points and suddenly were down just 23-21.
At no point did Slate consider calling a time-out to stem the Mount Airy tide, resolving to make his players play their own way out of the mess.
“When I’m coaching a bunch of juniors and seniors and kids that have been doing it for three or four years, what am I going to say in a timeout that is technically or tactically going to make a difference,” Slate said, saying that it was simply a matter of his players executing.
The 45th point of the set went back-and-forth between the teams, highlighted by several digs for Kayla Hicks and Cox in Mount Airy navy and for Evann Shelnutt and Holt in North Surry blue. Finally, Paige Sizemore, who had already been denied a kill four times by Cox, took a different approach and dinked the ball over two Mount Airy blockers and won the point for the Lady Hounds.
North had triple match point, but the Lady Bears weren’t done fighting. Hanne Cooke took on the North attackers and scored a block, and Mount Airy closed to within a single point when the next point ended in a hitting error by the Lady Hounds.
The match finally ended on the next point, when Mayfield’s kill attempt sailed just long. North Surry prevailed 25-15, 25-18, 25-23.
“We had spurts where we played really well. We did some good things, we served well, had people in the right positions, but we didn’t finish the sets,” Slate said.
The Lady Hounds (12-0) were heavily favored coming in. Mount Airy had been competitive in every match it had played this season, save its most recent one against 4A powerhouse Reagan. However, the Lady Bears have narrowly lost to the best teams on their schedule, including three times in five-set matches.
All three sets followed the same script early on, with North Surry getting an early lead. In set one, North led 7-3 and then 10-6 when Mayfield tried to energize her side with a blast off a perfect set from Brooke Lankford, but Sizemore answered by winning the next point for North. Then Mikaela Johnson got a ball through a block attempt by Arry Ward and North went on a roll, building its lead to 16-8 before Morris asked for time. Out of the break, Cox scored a kill, Mayfield served an ace and then Ward scored a kill. An unforced error got the Lady Bears back within 16-12, but North settled down, won five of the next six points and forced Morris to use his second time-out. This time, it didn’t stop the bleeding, and the Lady Hounds won four of the next six to capture the set.
In set two, North Surry rolled to an early 10-3 lead and then Mount Airy tried to get back into it. The Lady Bears won six of the next nine points, closing to 13-9 when Draughon put a ball off two Lady Hounds. However, Holt scored a kill on the next point and then Sizemore got the better of Cooke for another. Mount Airy couldn’t get closer than five points for the remainder of the set.
North quickly built up a 5-1 lead in set three, but Mount Airy again responded to the early adversity, getting within 7-6 following an ace by Hicks and a kill from Draughon. However, a bad serve kept the Lady Bears from tying and they never got any closer. Sizemore served off a long series of points and Camille Cartwright won two long rallies for the Lady Hounds. The lead got to 10 points before Mount Airy was able to get anything going.
North Surry setter Dixie Fulk had 29 assists in the match and also added 13 digs. Cartwright led the Lady Hounds with 10 kills, followed by Sizemore with eight and Holt with six. Shelnutt had 17 digs and Holt added a dozen.
North travels to Surry Central for a conference match today, while the Lady Bears travel to South Stokes on Thursday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.