DOBSON — The first eight days of Brittany Tolbert’s career as the head volleyball coach at Surry Central were more like a nightmare for the former Lady Eagle star.
It’s not that Central was bad, it was merely that every time the team went out, one part of the young team’s game was a bit off, and the Lady Eagles would lose. They lost five matches in eight days, including three heartbreaking 3-2 setbacks, two of which Central dropped the last set 15-13.
On Wednesday night, Tolbert and the Lady Eagles got their first victory, and it was a doozy. Surry Central came from behind and this time won in five, beating county rival East Surry 25-19, 19-25, 27-29, 26-24, 15-13. It was the first win for the Lady Eagles over East since October 10, 2015, when Central also downed the Lady Cardinals in five sets.
“I feel like we finally figured out what we needed to do in order to get wins,” said Tolbert, who played outside hitter for the Lady Eagles between 2007-09. “I could not be happier for these kids.”
The coach was no doubt proud of the current Lady Eagles’ top gun, senior Jenna Simpson, who led Central to victory with a team-high 12 kills and a .346 hitting percentage. She was ably assisted on the Lady Eagles’ attack by Madison Goins, who had seven kills without an error and a .333 percentage of her own. Emma Garland and freshman Mia McMillen put away six balls of their own during the win, and when Goins wasn’t hitting winners, she was setting her teammates up with 21 assists.
“I feel like we finally used our strength through the middle,” said Tolbert.
Perhaps the most important part of the Lady Eagles was that they weren’t hanging their heads after so many tough losses, most recently in a five-setter to West Wilkes the day before. No current Surry Central player had ever played in a win over East, but that wasn’t going to keep the Lady Eagles from trying.
They got off to a good start, downing the Lady Cards (3-2) 25-19 in an opening set where Abigail Johnson had eight digs and Central committed just three attack errors. East returned the favor in set two, and then the teams battled deep into an epic third set where the Lady Eagles were their own worst enemies, committing seven attack errors, seven ball-handling errors and five bad serves to fall behind two sets to one.
To its credit, the home team didn’t fold, knowing that they were beating themselves as much as their opponent was.
“We were 0-5 tonight, we had nothing to lose,” Tolbert said. “They had so much energy from start to finish.”
They put it to use in a fourth set in which East came close to winning the match, but the Lady Eagles refused to lose. Goins and Simpson had three kills each with no errors, and Central had just two bad serves in the entire set. Central’s defense was outstanding, with Johnson having 24 digs in this set alone.
“We were all over the floor, picking up everything,” Tolbert said.
Set five came down to the wire, but Tuesday was Central’s day. This time, it was the Lady Eagles who walked off the floor as the two-point victors. Simpson had four kills and Johnson nine digs, along with two service aces, in the set.
Johnson ended the match with 53 digs to go along with seven assists. Tolbert used all 11 of her players during the match, in what was a complete team effort.
Central won’t get long to celebrate the win, since the team goes back on the road today. However, it gets a chance to avenge one of its losses, at Wilkes Central. East, which has lost two five-setters in a row after starting 3-0, hosts North Wilkes today.