It would be hard for a straight-set volleyball match to have as many twists and turns as Thursday night’s showdown between North Surry and Mount Airy did.
The Lady Greyhounds made the trip across town and came away with a 34-32, 26-24, 25-18 victory, but not before holding off three set points by the Lady Bears in the first set and seven set points in set two, where North stormed back from a 23-11 deficit to win and go up 2-0. Even the third set was tied 11 different times before the Lady Hounds (3-3) finally got a lead and were able to pull away down the stretch.
“We’ve done some growing up,” said North Surry head coach Shane Slate. “We’ve played some competitive matches against teams like Watauga and Reagan and played with them point for point. We have the potential, and the more comfortable we get, the better we’ll get.”
The first set was so long and filled with long rallies that the two teams took a longer than usual break after it was finally completed. The Lady Bears led for much of the middle of the set, but North came on strong and at one point held double set point at 24-22. Mount Airy won each of the next two points, and before the set was over, the Lady Bears had saved seven set points and the Lady Hounds three. It wasn’t until the 11th set point, a kill by senior Evann Shelnutt, was scored that North Surry finally ended the marathon set. Avery Cox, Hannah Williams, Brooke Lankford and Hanne Cooke all had kills that saved the set for their team, while Jessi Shelnutt, Camille Cartwright and Natalie Eaton all denied the Lady Bears on a set point.
If Mount Airy had suffered a letdown from dropping such a grueling set, you wouldn’t know it by the way it began set two. Cooke, Cox and Williams all made big plays early on, and the Lady Bears went from a 4-1 lead to 9-2, continuing to put the hammer down on the visitors despite a time-out by Slate. When Lankford got up for a block on one of the North attackers, the lead ballooned to 14-4. The Lady Hounds managed to get their offense going after that, but every point they scored was matched by at least one from the home team. Mount Airy built a 23-11 lead and appeared on its way to a convincing set win.
Then, all of a sudden, a flip switched and North Surry came alive. The Lady Hounds won the next six points in a row, and Lady Bear head coach Chuck Morris asked for a time-out. The next point was a controversial call where an attack by North’s Jessi Shelnutt was called long, a call that Slate and his team strongly differed with. It gave Mount Airy seven set points to even the match. Amazingly, North held on every one of them.
“I’ve been on both ends,” said Slate, referring to both the incredibly long first set and the huge comeback in set two. “It’s times like that when I’m reminded that coaching doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. In that situation, you let players play and hang on for the ride. The momentum turned our way and we seized it.”
The Lady Hounds were already on a roll when Morris expended a second time-out, right after Evann Shelnutt served an ace that made it 24-21. Jessi Shelnutt slammed back an over-set ball on the next point, and then Mount Airy hit the ball out of bounds once and long on the next point, tying the set at 24. The next point saw another long rally, but Cartwright won it after outstanding defensive plays from Michaeala Stone and Evann Shelnutt. The Lady Hounds won the next point as well, taking the set with a stunning 15-2 finishing kick after being down by 12 points.
North Surry had shown its mental toughness, and now the Lady Bears did in set three. The visitors led 3-1, but then Piper Draughon smashed a ball for a kill and Cooke served an ace. The score was tied on every exchange of points between 3-3 and 11-11 before the Lady Hounds again went up two, at 13-11, following an excellent serve from Stone that Mount Airy was unable to return. However, the Lady Bears didn’t go away. Jessi Shelnutt made it 14-11, but then Mount Airy rallied to tie it, getting another Draughon kill and an ace by Bailey Sizemore to knot the score at 15. But North took over after that. Evann Shelnutt, playing one of the best games of her career at North (10 kills, 13 digs, three aces), powered her way past the Lady Bar defense for a kill, then went back to the service line and delivered a ball that the home team couldn’t return. Both Shelnutts got in on the fun as Evann saved a point with a dig and then Jessi put it away, pushing the North lead to 18-15. After Mount Airy got a point, Jessi Shelnutt got one past a defender. Cooke responded for her team, but then it was Evann Shelnutt’s turn to star again. She was forced to make a return from near her own back line and hit a perfect shot that landed just inside the back line on the other side to make it 21-17. Mount Airy won just one more point the rest of the way.
Cartwright and Evann Shelnutt led North with 10 kills each, while Natalie Eaton and Jessi Shelnutt each had nine, and Hannah Moxley six. Delaney Fulk had 38 assists and a team-high 14 digs, while Stone had 11 digs, Cartwright nine and Moxley eight.
The Lady Bears (3-2) start a four-match road trip on Tuesday at Wilkes Central, while North Surry begins conference play at home on Tuesday against Atkins.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.