The young North Surry volleyball team is definitely undergoing a trial by fire in the early portion of the 2018 season.
The Lady Greyhounds, who lost four of six starters from last year’s Western Regional runners-up, dropped their third straight match to a powerhouse program on Monday evening, falling 25-20, 25-16, 25-22 to the visiting Reagan Raiders.
A year ago, Reagan was the only team to defeat North Surry during the regular season, but like the Lady Hounds, the Raiders (3-0) lost quite a bit off that team, including its top two players in kills, its top four in digs, and its top setter as well. However, Reagan still has eight seniors on its roster, and the experience was telling over the course of the match.
“This is not anything we didn’t expect,” said North head coach Shane Slate. “We knew there would be growing pains. We have a lot of first-year players and players at new positions.
“If they keep working at it, we’ll be fine. The more experience we get, the better we’ll be. We’re playing some really good teams that expose your weaknesses.”
North Surry (1-3) had spurts where it played on even terms with the visitors, but also had spells where it was simply unable to handle the Raiders, who got strong performances from opposite hitter Grace DeLong, middle hitter McKenna Lush and outside hitter Jenna Robbins throughout the match.
“Our inconsistency was our biggest issue,” said Slate. “Some of it is technique, and some of it is when a point doesn’t go our way, we dwell on it too much. We have to learn to overcome us, because you’re going to make mistakes in volleyball. It’s a tough game to play.”
The match actually started out fairly well for North. Camille Cartwright won the opening point for the home team when Reagan’s serve receive went back over the net and Cartwright spiked it for an easy kill. The teams battled through the first 10 points evenly before the Raiders ran off five of the next six points to take a lead they would never relinquish. A bad Reagan serve followed by a Cartwright kill and a block by Jessi Shelnutt got the Lady Hounds back within two, but DeLong, who dominated the first set, unleashed a spike, then blocked Emma Haynes moments later to put the Raiders back up four. The visitors built the lead back to 24-18 before a Jessi Shelnutt kill followed by an ace held off the inevitable, but Reagan won the next point to win the set.
The Raiders dominated the second set, as North Surry struggled mightily to get into system early on. DeLong served off five points in a row and Reagan led 10-3 before hitting a kill attempt long. However, this didn’t keep them from building the lead to 15-7 and then basically trading blows with North for the rest of the set, which ended as a nine-point win for the defending Central Piedmont 4-A champions.
The Lady Hounds were much more competitive in set three. The teams split the first six points, and then Reagan went on a 7-2 run where North was hustling and playing hard on every play, but looked simply outgunned by the Raiders. The tide turned when an angle shot by DeLong sailed just wide of the sideline. Then Evann Shelnutt blasted one past the Reagan front line, and Jessi Shelnutt dumped one over their heads into a dead spot on the floor. Evann Shelnutt was all over the court, defending attack after attack by the visitors. Soon North had run off a 7-2 spree of its own, and Reagan head coach Doug Balser was the one asking for time. But the Lady Hounds kept coming. Evann Shelnutt scored on a dump shot and a spike as North closed to within 16-15. Robbins hit back-to-back winners for Reagan as the Raiders built the lead back to 21-15.
The Lady Hounds had one last rally in them. Natalie Eaton put one away from the middle of the floor, and then Hannah Moxley stepped to the service line and let loose a series of strong serves, including an ace that closed the gap to 21-18. Delaney Fulk sent across a dink shot that Reagan couldn’t handle, and then a Reagan dig sailed back over the next and Eaton crushed it to make the score 21-20.
The last few points were a slugfest, and North couldn’t quite get over the hump. Robbins broke the streak of five straight North Surry points, and then Whitney Ward had one as well to make it 23-20. A service error and a Cartwright kill made it 23-22, but Ward gave Reagan double match point. Jessi Shelnutt tried to keep it alive for her team, but hit her kill attempt long.
Eaton led the Lady Hounds with seven kills, followed by Cartwright, and both Shelnutts with five each. Fulk had 20 assists, while Evann Shelnutt led the team with 10 digs, followed by seven for Haynes.
The Lady Hounds will travel to Alleghany on Wednesday evening.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.