When it came to making sports history at North Surry this weekend, the ladies had to wait their turn. But they didn’t mind.
A memorable 24 hours for Greyhound rooters wound down on Saturday evening, as the North Surry volleyball team reached its first West Regional final in five years with a decisive 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 victory over South Fork Conference champion East Lincoln in the quarterfinals of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
North Surry, now 29-1 on the season, is back in the West final for the first time since winning the 2012 state championship. The Lady Hounds will travel to Statesville for a showdown against West Iredell on Tuesday night. The Warriors (26-3) won the Northwestern Foothills Conference title this season and were the No. 1 seed in the regional. The teams have swapped the Nos. 1 and 2 positions in MaxPreps’ 2A power ratings all season, with West having been in the top spot for the last few days, and were also seeded 1-2 in the playoffs.
“It’s always a fun trip to go to the West Regional final, because if you take care of business, you get to play for the big prize,” said North Surry coach Shane Slate. “I was fortunate enough to see (West Iredell) play earlier at Starmount. They’re a good team. Actually, they look a lot like us in terms of personnel and how they play. We’ll have to play better than we played tonight if we want to be in business for next Saturday.”
Many Hound rooters had been keeping one eye on West Iredell for some time, but North Surry couldn’t afford to look past Saturday’s match. East Lincoln (25-6) was the second South Fork team that the Lady Hounds had faced this postseason. North Lincoln, which finished third in that league, two games behind the Mustangs, had given North Surry fits in Tuesday’s second round. Both teams entered the match somewhat worn down, and Saturday’s meeting was often a matter of which team could fight through a third grueling match in five days.
“I thought both teams looked tired, and playing four matches in eight days at this point in the season,” said Slate “Neither team was as sharp as we normally are. We were a little short on passing, and that kept us out of system, and we had some hitting errors, and so did they. Luckily, we served really well, and better than they did.”
The Lady Hounds avoided the slow start that had plagued them in some recent matches, and found themselves in their element against another team that liked to play power volleyball. East Lincoln won the first point of the match, but then North Surry ran off five straight, including an ace from Dixie Fulk and a rocket shot by Camille Cartwright off the Mustangs’ Morgan Edwards. The visitors finally got a side-out, but at 8-4, the Lady Hounds got rolling again with back-to-back kills by Paige Sizemore and forced East Lincoln coach Stacy Possert to ask for a time-out.
Whatever Possert told her team must have worked, because the Mustangs reeled off four straight and it was Slate’s turn to ask for a break. But it took the Lady Hounds two more points to halt the run. Cartwright put a ball off East middle blocker Evelyn Kinsch to make it 13-10. Evann Shelnutt delivered an ace, and then another serve that the Mustangs couldn’t return in three hits, and the momentum was back with the home team. Shelnutt’s serve kept the visitors out of system, and North rolled to a 17-10 lead. The closest that East Lincoln could get in the endgame was six. At 22-15, Martha Holt went back to the service line and served out the set.
Set two was more competitive. North never trailed, but Eats Lincoln kept creeping back within a point, only to see Mikaela Johnson, Sizemore or Holt respond. Back-to-back kills for Gabby Leach and Rogers pulled the Mustangs within 15-14, but their next two kill attempts went wide, and then Sizemore put one away to make it 18-14. Possert called for time, but after her team won the next point, North went back on the attack. Fulk made a perfect set to Johnson for a spike that sounded like a cannon shot, and then Fulk delivered an ace. Like Shelnutt, the senior had her jump serve working well, and the Mustangs rarely got into system against it.
“When we get to serve first and we go Evann and Dixie back to back, both of those kids have really nice jump-float serves.” Slate said. “We’ve scored a lot of points this season in those two rotations.”
At 21-15, a long rally ensued in which Leach thought she had a kill, only to see Sizemore hit the floor and keep the ball alive. Holt got the ball across to Emma Haynes, who guided a difficult ball across the net and induced a double-hit violation on one of the East Lincoln blockers. Remarkably, the Mustangs fought back, with Leach and Kinsch taking on Johnson and closing the gap to 22-18, but Cartwright, who had struggled in North’s last match, came up big again in this one, putting one away and stopping the Mustang rally.
East Lincoln’s season hung in the balance now, and the Mustangs fought tenaciously in set three. Leach, Rogers and Kinsch all came out swinging, and four straight points erased all of an early North Surry lead. Cartwright beat Rogers to put the Lady Hounds back in front 12-11, and then Johnson went spike-block-block to put North in front 15-12. Kinsch scored twice for the visitors and then Johnson hit another rocket for her team. But the Mustangs kept up the intensity and kept the Lady Hounds from getting any kind of flow to their offense. Finally, with the score tied at 20, East Lincoln took the lead when Mary Tomberlin got a winner off Cartwright.
It turned out to be the final hurrah of the Mustangs’ season. On the next point, Leach went for the North Surry back line and hit it too long. That put Shelnutt on serve for North, and that was bad news for East Lincoln. A net violation was followed by Johnson crushing one past Rogers. Out of the time-out, another attack error gave the Lady Hounds match point, and Shelnutt delivered an ace.
Johnson had eight kills in 14 attempts for an impressive .429 kill percentage, while both Cartwright and Sizemore scored nine kills. Cartwright did so with just a single attack error. Shelnutt led a strong defensive effort with 21 kills, followed by Sizemore with 17, Holt with 16 and Fulk with 11. Johnson had three blocks and Haynes two. Fulk had 28 assists.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.