PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry wasn’t quite ready to declare victory in its quest for a third straight Northwest 1A Conference title, but the red tide is clearly rolling in once more.
The Lady Cardinals hosted Mount Airy with first place in the NW1A on the line, and East Surry sent a clear message by rolling over the Lady Bears, 25-17, 25-8, 25-11 on Thursday evening.
“We’re halfway there, but our conference is pretty good this year. It’s nice to be halfway through and at the top, but we’re still a long way from the finish line,” said Lady Cards head coach Caleb Gilley, whose team already owns a win over all of its potential rivals in the league. “We’ve got to keep working and keep getting better as a team. It’s nice to be where we’re at, but we’re a long ways from being done.”
The Lady Cardinals (10-4, 4-0 NW1A), currently ranked No. 9 in the state’s 1A ranks by MaxPreps.com, won four of the last five points of the first set and then completely dominated the last two. East Surry had a 7-0 run in the middle of each of the opening sets and then ran off eight straight in the final set. The home team’s calling card came in the form of an overpowering service game, led by juniors Ally McCraw and Morgan Smith, who combined for seven of their team’s 10 service aces. The Lady Bears were often unable to get into system even when they received serve, and it was a struggle for Mount Airy to even get the ball over the net in the required three hits.
“We have worked all year on serving, and I thought tonight we looked pretty good. It was definitely one of our advantages tonight,” said Gilley. “Mount Airy is always a good, well-coached team and we’re happy to get the win.”
The Lady Bears, who were coming off back-to-back wins over North Stokes and North Forsyth the previous two nights, actually started off well against East, winning three of the first four points in set one. The Lady Cardinals finally got a side-out and McCraw served her team to a 6-3 lead, but Piper Draughon got up for a block and the Lady Bears pulled closer on an ace by Hanne Cooke. The teams traded for a bit, with Draughon pulling her team within two after scoring a kill followed by a service ace. However, East ripped off seven in a row after that, and even a time-out by Mount Airy coach Chuck Morris couldn’t stop the onslaught. Even when the Lady Bears finally did take a point, McCraw set up Maggie Holt on a thundering smash to get serve back and make the score 18-10. Cooke tried to get the Lady Bears back in the fight by blocking Allie Bruner and then serving back-to-back aces, but Mount Airy couldn’t get closer than 21-16. It won just one more point before Leah Hayes served out the set.
Mount Airy started out set two as well as it had the first, winning the first three points, culminating in an ace by Bailey Sizemore. But then the East Surry gym went on Red alert as the Lady Cardinals won 20 of the next 22 points. Smith served the early part of the run and had one ace, along with some other serves that the Lady Bears couldn’t handle. Allie Bruner showed her stuff with two kills, including one on a Mount Airy bump that got too close to the net. Smith served one out of bounds after 12 straight points, but then McCraw to Holt struck again and got serve back for the home team. She served off eight more points in a row, including a rocket shot up the middle of the court for an ace. Allie Bruner had back-to-back kills at one point, and sophomore Emma Brown earned one of her five blocks. The lead reached 20-5 before the Lady Bears won another point.
The third set started out competitively, with East Surry on top 8-5 but then running off three in a row to lead 11-5 before Morris called time-out. Mabe came out and put a shot through the Lady Cards’ block for a point and then blocked Kylie Bruner to make it 11-7, but Smith won the next rally for East, went back to the service line, and the Lady Cardinals went on another long run that featured strong attacks by both Bruners and Holt. Senior Jessica Clayton served out the match.
The overwhelming service game of East meant that a lot of points were decided early, and the Lady Cardinals had just 28 kills in the match. Allie Bruner had 11 of them and Holt seven. The home team was also strong defensively, with Brown scoring five blocks, Holt four, and two each for the Bruners. Smith had 14 digs, Allie Bruner 11, and Kylie Bruner nine. McCraw had 24 assists without a single ball-handling error.
Both teams will step out of conference play on Monday evening and face a stiff challenge.
East Surry hosts rival Surry Central (8-7) on Monday night. The Lady Eagles have won eight of 10 and seized second place in the Western Piedmont 2A since stunning East back on Aug. 22. The Lady Bears (8-7, 3-2 NW1A) travel to Mountain Valley 1A/2A leader Alleghany (10-2), the state’s eighth-ranked 1A team, on Monday evening.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.