As usual, East Surry and Mount Airy were meeting with first place in the Northwest 1A Conference volleyball standings on the line.
But at least for now, the seventh-ranked Lady Cardinals are in a class all to themselves.
Visiting East Surry led wire-to-wire in its first meeting with the Lady Bears on Thursday evening, building a large lead in each set and then playing out the string for a 25-18, 25-17, 25-13 victory.
”I thought there were a couple of things we could have done better, but I was definitely pleased in our overall performance,” said East Surry head coach Caleb Gilley, whose team won its 14th straight conference match dating back to last year. “Mount Airy is a solid team, (and) they have a lot of good players, so getting a win on their home court is definitely a good thing for us and something to build on.”
The Lady Cardinals (14-2, 4-0 NW1A) only briefly trailed in the second and third sets before going on long runs in each and seemed to get stronger as the match went on, emerging as the lone unbeaten team remaining in conference play.
Seniors Bethany Clayton (18 kills, 22 digs) and Sarah Marion (13 kills, four blocks) dominated from start to finish, typically setting up on either side of the Lady Cardinals’ attack. With solid defense and excellent setting from sophomore Kelsey Heflin (32 assists), East Surry had all of the ingredients going for victory. This was evident from the start, as the Lady Cardinals showcased all of their weapons early on. Clayton fooled the Lady Bears with a soft dink for a kill when they expected a spike, then served an ace which was followed by Marion doing some mashing to make it 9-2. Mount Airy asked for time-out at 13-5 and won the next point, but Heflin got the ball to Maggie Holt for a kill, and then it was Clayton’s turn again, lighting it up from the left side for a 15-6 lead.
East got the lead to 10, but the Lady Bears tried to rally behind some strong play from Madeline Mayfield and Hannah Williams, back in the lineup after missing a match with an injury. They closed to within 23-17 after Hanne Cooke drilled an over-hit, but Holt got the Lady Cardinals to set point with a kill. Arry Ward saved the first set point, but the next one went to Clayton.
Mount Airy took a 3-2 lead in set two and stayed in front for a while, taking advantage of some East Surry attack errors. However, the Lady Cardinals soon rediscovered their mojo, and the home team couldn’t keep up. Marion had back-to-back winners, and then Jessica Clayton took over in the service game. After the Lady Bears mishandled a serve and failed to return it in three hits, the next two serves earned aces for Jessica Clayton. Williams ended the run with a kill to make it 13-8, but Marion responded by putting the next point away and then serving an ace. Allie Bruner blasted a kill off a Mount Airy defender and then Morgan Smith got into the ace game with one of her own, making it 19-10 and prompting the Lady Bears to ask for time. They never got closer than eight after that.
Heflin continued her outstanding setting and the Lady Cardinals continued to roll in the third set. With the score 3-3, the sophomore went first to Bethany Clayton and then to Marion for two points, and then Bethany served an ace. The next point was Bruner’s turn, and she finished one off as well. The teams traded blows for a while, and then Bethany Clayton and Mayfield confronted each other directly on several straight rallies, with each scoring a kill and then the Lady Cardinal blocking the Lady Bear for an 18-9 advantage.
After a time-out, Ward tried to bring her team back from the brink, winning two straight on nifty dink plays and then getting to the net for a block against Bethany Clayton. But one of her teammates made a bad serve, and Bruner put the next one away to make it 20-13 East Surry. From there, Jessica Clayton served out the last five points of the match.
The Lady Cardinals had 16 blocks as a team, including five from Maddie Payne, four each from Holt and Marion, two from Bethany Clayton and one from Bruner. Smith had 13 digs and Bruner 12.
The Lady Bears (6-8, 2-1 NW1A) step out of conference play to host North Surry on Monday. East is off until Tuesday, when the Lady Cards host league cellar-dweller Winston-Salem Prep.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.