PILOT MOUNTAIN — When one thinks of winning volleyball, the first thing that usually comes to mind is an explosive outside hitter taking a set and blasting the ball past, or through, a defender for a point.
But it’s a sport where there are plenty of other paths to victory, and East Surry’s Lady Cardinals put on a clinic in ‘small ball’ on Wednesday night to take a 19-25, 25-15, 25-15, 26-24 victory over 4A West Forsyth.
“We didn’t serve tough at them, (and) we didn’t do a very good job in serve receive in that first set,” said East Surry coach Caleb Gilley. “From that point on, we served at lot tougher at them, and gave them some problems and us some easy balls back across the net. Defensively, we got a lot better after set one, and I thought our block did a better job after set one as well.”
East Surry (7-3 overall) struggled against the hard-hitting Titans in the first set, but then started doing the things their coach said they needed to do to win. Offensively, East found finding gaps in West Forsyth’s shaky defense, and the combination of factors led to two easy set wins. The Titans rallied from a 10-point deficit in set four to tie the score at 21, 22 and 24, but the Lady Cards stayed mentally tough and finally put their guests away.
West Forsyth tried to set a tone early on. Morgan Smtih opened the set with an ace for East, but then the Titans reeled off four straight points and led until the Lady Cards pulled even at 12 on an ace by Leah Hayes followed by a kill from Allie Bruner. Unfortunately, West Forsyth reeled off four straight again, as East seemed just a step slow in defending against attacks from Titan attackers Madie Lichty, Lelia Landrum and Eliza Janzef throughout the opening set.
Down 16-12, East responded with six straight points of its own and forced Titan coach Lauren Yacobi Gillon to ask for a time-out, and whatever she told her team must have worked. Landrum scored a block on East’s Kylie Bruner out of the break, and then a long rally ended in a kill for Lichty that tied the score. Two players later, she blocked Allie Bruner, and momentum went completely in the direction of West Forsyth. The Lady Cardinals won just one more point the rest of the set.
“The first set, we just didn’t play very well,” said Gilley.
The good thing for East is that they realized this and quickly rectified the problem. While the Titans were taller and stronger than the Lady Cardinals, they weren’t as strong in other areas of the game, and attacking West’s weaknesses turned out to be the path to a win for East Surry.
Set two got under way with junior setter Ally McCraw delivering back-to-back balls to Allie Bruner for well-placed kills, and then Smith served back-to-back aces for a 4-0 lead. The Titans started swinging away and tied the set at 7, but Kylie Bruner won the next point, and the Lady Cardinals never trailed again. With the Bruners and Morgan Smith finding the open spots and McCraw delivering good set after set, East started to roll. Those four and libero Anna-Kate Badgett and sophomore Emma Brown started covering the floor and keeping balls alive, and the lead reached 15-8 before the visitors scored again. However, when West got two in a row, Maggie Holt scored on a dink shot and then West’s Landrum put a ball into the net. Moments later, Brown stuffed Landrum for a block —her second rejection of the set, and the set ended on a rocket shot from Bruner.
The Titans won the first four points of set three, but Gilley thought his team still had matters in hand and didn’t call time. He was right, as the Lady Cards got on the board and Jessica Clayton delivered an ace. East Surry pulled even when Kylie Bruner stuffed Lichty and went ahead on a kill from Allie Bruner. With the score tied at 7, Allie smashed a ball off the Titans’ Clara LaRue and then served two aces in a 4-0 run. The home team remained in the ascendant, and two time-outs by Gillon failed to slow down the red tide.
The visitors from Winston-Salem started set four well also, winning the first two points, but the East Surry went on an 11-2 run that featured kills from both Bruners and an ace from McCraw. Down 11-4, the Titans powered their way to three points in a row, but then had a four-hit violation and Allie Bruner made them pay with back-to-back aces. At 15-7, the Lady Cards won a brilliant rally in which they saved the ball from going out four times and dug it five times before forcing a West error. At 17-7, a service error ended the run and then West mounted a do-or-die rally on excellent attacking from Sydney Joyner from the outside. LaRue and Hairston slammed down over-hit balls for the Titans, who whittled the lead down to four. Holt had two kills for East to make it 21-16, but West kept coming and tied the set at 21 on an ace by Janzef.
With the set tied at 22, Kylie Bruner put a ball just inside the sideline and Allie Bruner aced for double match point, but the Titans refused to die, winning the next two and tying it at 24 when Joyner blocked Kylie. A long rally with more outstanding East defense followed before Brown hit a winner that gave East match point. Joyner’s bid to keep West in the match sailed long to ended it.
Allie Bruner led East with 14 kills, and Kylie had a dozen. East Surry had a strong kill percentage of .296 for the match. The Lady Cards racked up 15 services aces, led by Allie Bruner with six and Smith with four. Morgan Smith had 21 of her team’s 75 digs, followed by Allie Bruner with 18, Badgett with 13 and Kylie Bruner with 10. McCraw had 39 assists.
The Lady Cards will begin defense of their two straight Northwest 1A Conference titles on Tuesday at South Stokes.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.