Shane Slate holds no ill will toward conference rival Forbush, but he’ll have to be forgiven for hoping he next sees the Lady Falcons during basketball season.
Slate’s top-ranked North Surry volleyball team captured the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference tournament title on Wednesday night, after holding off a determined Forbush team in one of the closest three-set matches you could ever hope to see. The Lady Greyhounds will head into the state playoffs off a 25-23, 25-22, 25-22 win that would have been worthy of an even more significant setting.
“They are a very good volleyball team. Our league is the best it’s been in a while. Forbush is a 2o-win team playing the first- or second-toughest schedule in 2A,” said Slate, who was named as the Conference’s Coach of the Year following the win. “We didn’t play as well tonight as we were probably capable of, but part of that is due to them. This kind of win is very good for us, because it helps set us up for the state playoffs.”
North Surry has been ranked in the top two of MaxPreps’ 2A power ratings since the first ones were issued late in August. The Lady Hounds’ 25-1 record is blemished only by a loss to a Ronald Reagan team ranked No. 1 in the state’s 4A ranks. But Forbush tried everything it could to turn that “1” into a “2” on Wednesday. Two of the three sets featured furious late rallies by the Lady Falcons (20-10) that required everything North had to hold off.
One of those came in the opening set. Forbush let the Lady Hounds know it had come to play very early on, when Parkley Hennings scored a block on Camille Cartwright that put her team in front 4-2. The Lady Falcons led until North ran off five straight points for a 12-8 lead, taking the lead on a brilliant shot from Paige Sizemore that landed just inside the back left corner of the court. Forbush steadied itself and got a side-out after calling for a break in the action, but then Sizemore attacked the other corner and landed one inside the right. Middle hitters Mikaela Johnson of the Lady Hounds and Cameron Doub of the Lady Falcons took turns mashing, but with the score 16-13, Sizemore took over and appeared to have her team on the way to victory. She had the winner on a long rally that had featured outstanding digs on both sides, then fired off on a kill from the middle of the floor for a 19-14 lead. The senior was in the middle blocker spot on the next point and scored another kill, then took a set from Dixie Fulk on the outside left and scored to make it 21-14.
Lady Falcon coach Amber Fulk spent her second time-out of the set, and her team had seen enough of the Paige Sizemore show. Now they strutted their own stuff. Mackenzie Fulk got a strong set from Laiken Baity, scored, and the rally was on. Colby Crater served back-to-back aces, and now it was Forbush on the attack and the state’s top-ranked team out of system and scrambling. Slate called a time-out at 21-19, but the Lady Falcons kept charging. Crater aced again and the set was tied at 21.
Then Dixie Fulk hit what might have been the shot of the night. With her team struggling to hold off a fired-up Forbush team, the senior setter looked ready to set Johnson or Sizemore on a routine attack. Instead, she guided a shot over the net and toward the sideline. The “on-two” shot landed just inside the sideline, right in front of the Lady Falcons’ fan section — and North Surry led again, 22-21.
They led the rest of the way, although Forbush gave them fits. At 23-22, Dixie Fulk scored a block to earn double set point for North, but ended up matched up on Hennings on the next point and lost. However, she got the ball to Johnson on the next point and the soon-to-be crowned two-time WPAC Player of the Year finished it.
Set two started the same way, Dixie Fulk to Johnson for the spike. Then Martha Holt blocked Hennings and it was 2-0, only to see Forbush go on a 9-4 run and lead the second set. The Lady Falcons led 10-7 after Crater blocked Sizemore, but then North responded with an 8-0 run in which Johnson had two blocks and two thunderous kills. Forbush answered back with strong play from Mackenzie Fulk and great setting by Baity to her, Crater, Cathryn Prim and Hennings. North couldn’t put the visitors away, and after Baity set up Hennings for a point, it was 19-17 and Slate was calling time, something he’s loath to do. Holt scored twice, but Prim beat Johnson and Crater put one away as well. Sizemore blasted one past two would-be blockers, but Mackenzie Fulk won the next one for the Lady Falcons. Finally, at 23-21, Johnson spiked a shot for triple set point. Hennings saved one, but on the next point, Holt drilled a ball that Baity couldn’t dig.
North Surry appeared to finally have it in the bag in set three, which saw the Lady Hounds roll to an 18-8 lead off a 9-2 run. But Forbush wasn’t going to fold that easily. The Lady Falcons won three straight points on rallies that featured outstanding attacking and defending from both sides. Forbush caught a few breaks when North attacks went just long or wide, but then Prim drilled a ball off Holt’s block attempt to make it 18-16. Hennings won the next point, but with a chance to tie, a ball landed North Surry’s way for a change and halted the run. Sizemore stepped up for her team, took on Crater and beat her for a 20-17 lead. Forbush took the next two to again close within one, but the Lady Hounds were steel. At 21-20, Sizemore was matched up on Crater at the net again, and this time put a touch shot off the latter’s hands to again put North ahead by two. Baity set Crater on the next play and she spiked it for a one-point set again, but a service error prevented the Lady Falcons from tying it up. It also put the ball into the hands of Sizemore on the service line. She capped off her Tournament MVP performance by delivering an ace for triple match point, 24-21. Again, the Lady Falcons saved one, but no more than that.
Johnson led the team with 13 kills, but it was Sizemore, who racked up 11 kills and 22 digs, who was named the MVP of the tournament. Dixie Fulk, who had 36 assists with no errors, four blocks and 10 digs, joined her and Holt (nine kills, 15 digs) on the All-Tournament team, along with Forbush’s Ebony Williams, who led the the Lady Falcons’ tough defense, and Mackenzie Fulk. Taylor Coe of Surry Central and Taylor Cunningham of West Stokes were also named to the squad.
Evann Shelnutt led North with 23 digs.
Both North Surry and Forbush will find out their opening-round playoff assignments today and play on Saturday. It is possible that the teams might have to meet again on down the line, something Slate said he wouldn’t look forward to.
“I’ve been in positions where I had to play a conference team a fourth time and it’s not fun,” he said, adding that he didn’t enjoy the prospect of having to beat Forbush for a third time this season, let alone a fourth. However, he also said his team is ready to take on all comers as it seeks the third state title in school history.
“We have a done a lot of good things this season, we have good balance, people are playing well and even when we made mistakes tonight, we were able to recover,” he said, stating that he likes his team’s readiness for the playoffs.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.