In a match filled with back-and-forth swings of momentum between two evenly-matched teams, what seemed to be a desperation time-out may have decided the issue.
South Stokes head coach Jayson Duncan had watched his team surrender eight consecutive points to host Mount Airy, leaving the Lady Bears with a double set point in order to take a 2-1 lead in Thursday night’s volleyball match. However, Duncan hadn’t given up on the set or on his team, and he let them know it in the huddle.
“I asked who our next server was, so we could get the ball to them so they could close it out for us. That’s exactly what I told them,” Duncan said following his team’s 29-27, 13-25, 29-27, 25-15 win.
Duncan’s faith in his team proved prophetic. The Lady Bears’ Piper Draughon served for the set at 24-22 and aimed for the back right corner of the South Stokes backcourt, but the ball sailed a half-foot long and gave the Lady Sauras new life. They took advantage of it, winning the next point as well before Macy Nelson served an ace to give her team a set point at 25-24. Mount Airy’s Avery Cox put a ball away to tie the score again, and before the set was decided, South Stokes had saved three set points and the Lady Bears had held the Lady Sauras off twice. Finally, the visitors had their third set point at 28-27 and Lydia Caudill made a return that Mount Airy was unable to return in three hits.
After three sets, the Lady Bears had outscored their opponents by eight points, but South Stokes led in sets, 2-1. The Lady Sauras also had all of the momentum after winning the dramatic third set.
South Stokes won the first four points of set four before Hannah Williams was able to score off the outside and get the Lady Bears on the board. However, the Lady Sauras wouldn’t let the home team come back this time. They won the next six points in a row, highlighted by a Caudill rejection against Cox and a dump shot into open court by Lilly Weaver, and ran the lead to 10-1 before Mount Airy coach Chuck Morris called time-out. The Lady Bears then mounted a rally, going on a 9-3 run that fueled by strong serving from Draughton and setting from Brooke Lankford, and appeared to be back in contention at 13-10.
The teams swapped blows over the next few minutes, highlighted by Lady Saura setter Hailey Rothrock getting the ball to Weaver, Caudill and Rhiannon Dunlap, before Draughton had back-to-back kills that made it 18-15 in Stokes’ favor. However, Caudill won a long rally on the next point, and the rest of the match belonged to the visitors. Weaver smashed two straight kills and then scored off a touch shot as the Lady Sauras reached match point, and then won, on Caudill’s serve.
“It was a fantastic spectator game,” said Duncan. “We played well, but it went back and forth. Everybody hustled, (and) some of our players found their voice. They finally learned to encourage each other, and that’s a challenge sometimes. Mount Airy played really well also.”
It was clear early on that this was anyone’s match. South Stokes came out of the opening set flying high after pulling it out on the fourth extra point, and then took four of the first six points of set two for a 4-2 lead. Unfortunately, if you were a Saura rooter, the rest of set two was all Lady Bears. They won the next point and then the next six, culminating in a service ace by Lankford that had Duncan calling time with his team down 9-4. His team won the next point, but Mount Airy kept rolling, getting the lead to 16-4 before Dunlap scored for her team. South Stokes later ran off four straight points, capped by an ace by Hallie Carroll, but this only got the score back to 22-12. The next point ended in an unforced error by the Lady Sauras, and Draughon put a ball away to end the set moments later.
“They won the second (set), and we either had to suck it up or lose,” said Duncan.
Elizabeth Heck opened set four with an ace, but South Stokes won seven of the next nine points before Cox hit an on-two winner to end the run. Mount Airy started to get the better of play, but Weaver kept scoring from the outside and kept Stokes ahead for a time. Draughon finally put a kill past Dunlap to start a run that tied the set up, only for the Lady Sauras to mount an 8-2 run and lead 18-12. With the score at 22-16 and the Sauras seemingly on their way to an easy set win, Draughon hit a ball from her back line to the Stokes back line, and Weaver couldn’t dig it. Draughon went back to the service line and delivered several balls that the Lady Sauras had serious problems with. At 20-16, middle hitter Hanne Cooke ended up having to set, and put a perfect one for Cox, who got the kill. Then Draughon delivered an ace to tie it before Williams and Cox had kills to make it 24-22. Duncan immediately called a time-out to set up the crucial sequence.
The Lady Bears (6-6, 2-1 NW1A) travel to North Stokes on Tuesday, while the Lady Sauras (12-3, 1-1) will travel to West Stokes on Monday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.