DOBSON — When Surry Central’s volleyball team lost its first five matches of the season, one thing head coach Brittany Tolbert never questioned was the effort. It was only the execution that needed to improve.
After outlasting Mount Airy in five sets to win for the third time in four matches, it is clear that the young Lady Eagles are starting to put it all together.
The Lady Eagles rallied from a 2-1 deficit on Wednesday night and dominated the final two sets to claim a 25-27, 25-18, 21-25, 25-17, 15-7 victory over the Lady Bears. It marked the second time this season that Central (3-6 overall) has avenged one of its defeats from that five-match skid that opened their season.
“This is a group of girls that didn’t really work together to begin with, because they had never played together,” said Tolbert, whose team avenged a loss to Wilkes Central last week before falling to 4A West Forsyth on Monday. “But their chemistry is good, their communication is getting there, and they’re finally putting all of the pieces together and I love it.”
The Lady Eagles had a set point in the first set and led 21-20 in the third, but had too many spells where they committed unforced errors coupled with poor serving, and were one set away from defeat when set four got under way.
Central showed its mettle in that set. Mount Airy, sensing victory, came out clicking on all cylinders and quickly built a 6-2 lead. The Lady Bears were still on top 12-8 halfway through the set, after Hanne Cooke blocked Jenna Simpson. But the home team scored a side-out on the next point and momentum swung from the team in blue to the team in the black. When Emma Garland served an ace to bring Central within one, Mount Airy head coach Chuck Morris called for a quick time-out.
It didn’t matter. The Lady Eagles had called retreat for the final time. Mia McMillen blasted a kill from the right side of the net and tied the set. Garland delivered another perfect serve that two of the Lady Bears called out and didn’t play, but it wasn’t out. McMillen hit another winner to make it 14-12. Mount Airy scrambled to win the next two points, but Simpson put away another ball and then Abigail Johnson served an ace. At 16-15, Madison Goins made a cross-court set to Tara Blevins for a kill. Back-to-back kills by Jordyn Coe followed, and forced Morris to ask for time again. But Coe and Goins each had a kill out of the break, and then a desperation bump shot by Goins landed into a corner on the Mount Airy side of the net to make it 23-16. Central finished out the set and went the distance for the sixth time in nine matches this season.
“I hate the five sets. I wish we could do it in a shorter amount of time, because these five-set matches give me a heart attack,” said Tolbert.
But they’re easier to live with when you win them. The Lady Eagles had conquered East Surry and Wilkes Central in five last week and would do it again to the Lady Bears.
Set five began with a smash for a point by Simpson. Then Goins decided to score one for herself rather than set up her teammate, delivering a ball just inside the back line on a bump shot to make it 2-0, and then served an ace. Mount Airy hit the ball long on the fourth point, and Simpson made a return shot on the fifth that the visitors couldn’t return in three hits. Morris called time-out down 5-0, but Simpson, who led her team with 12 kills and five blocks, wasn’t done. She scored a block on Cooke and then drilled a ball that Avery Cox couldn’t handle. It was 7-0 before Brooke Lankford got the Lady Bears on the board. Cooke then returned the favor and blocked Simpson for a point, but Goins set Garland on the next play and got the kill. Garland followed with an ace and Simpson with another kill before Cooke answered to make it 10-3.
Mount Airy closed the gap to 11-5, bur after the teams traded points, Goins caught Mount Airy out of position twice on dink shots, sandwiched around a kill from Piper Draughon. On match point, Simpson blocked the Lady Bears’ Hannah Williams and set off a celebration on the floor.
Central won 34 of the final 46 points of the match after trailing two sets to one and 8-12 in set four.
For a long time, it looks like the Lady Eagles would end up losing, and largely by their own hands. In set one, Morris had to call a quick time-out after Central won the first four points of the match, and despite atrocious serving, the home team still led 22-19 late in the set. The Lady Bears’ Elizabeth Heck scored a kill to keep her team alive, but Central still had a set point at 24-23, only for Coe’s kill attempt to go long. Williams ended up winning the set for the Lady Bears a few minutes later.
Bad serving likely cost Central the first set, and the normally soft-spoken Tolbert had a word with her team about this.
“I think in that first set we had four service errors in a row, and I chewed them out,” she said. “It was the first thing I ever chewed them out for. We worked on that all day in practice yesterday, and then we come to the first set and miss four in a row.”
Set two was decided in a sequence after Mount Airy had tied the set at 14. Cooke hit the ball long in a bid to give her team the lead, and then the Lady Eagles got rolling. Coe blocked Cox and Blevins got a block on Draughon in an 8-0 run for Central off the serve of Johnson. From there, it was just a matter of playing out the string.
“They definitely turned the serving around, and I’m so glad they did. Maybe they just needed to get those jitters out,” Tolbert said.
Mount Airy scored the first five points of set three, including two aces by Meredith Cox, and led until the home team went on a 10-3 run to lead the set 20-19. Draughon, who played the match with an injured wrist, stepped up and scored a kill to stop the momentum. The teams were tied one more time at 21, but then Mount Airy won the last four points in a row to lead the match 2-1.
Eight different Central players had a kill in the match, led by Simpson’s dozen. Coe had seven, McMillen six and Blevins five. The Lady Eagles had 11 blocks, with Simpson getting five, Coe four and Blevins three, and 102 digs, with Johnson leading the way with 33. Goins had 23, McMillen 20, and Garland 10. Goins had 24 assists and Jaylyn Templeton 10.
The Lady Eagles will travel to Atkins today, while Mount Airy (4-3) is off until traveling to Starmount on Sept. 5.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.