DOBSON — Surry Central’s first-year head coach Brittany Tolbert said in the preseason that she aimed to finish in the top three of the Western Piedmont 2A Athletic Conference. Not only can the Eagles still get on the podium, but they’re in the running to win the whole thing for the first time in more than a decade.
The Golden Eagles defeated Walkertown 3-0 Thursday to improve to 7-1 in the WPAC and 10-8 on the season. Central now trails the conference leader Forbush by just one game and sit two games ahead of both North Surry and West Stokes. The last time Central finished second or higher in conference play was 2012, where the Eagles’ 13-3 record earned them second place in the then Northwest 1A/2A Conference.
“I was actually really upset after the East Surry match, so for the girls to come in here and stay cool, calm, and collected for this match was awesome, ” Tolbert said.
A few hiccups in the third set couldn’t slow the Eagles on the way to a 25-11, 25-12, 25-22 victory in straight sets. For Tolbert, the key to the Thursday’s victory was the team’s ability to execute on new strategies and techniques.
“They worked on things that I’ve been wanting them to work on in practice and they finally got to do it against a lower-ranked team where they had a chance to be risky, ” Tolbert said. “Usually it’s always smart ball with me.”
It was a true team effort as Tolbert made frequent substitutions to experiment with different lineups. In the first set, the back line of Mia McMillen, Madison Goins, and Abigail Johnson exhibited quality defensive play that set up Jenna Simpson and Tara Blevins for kills up front.
The closest the Wolfpack (6-11, 1-7) came to taking the lead in the first set was at 10-7. It was then that Goins went on a serving rampage, including a pair of aces, that led to Central taking a 16-7 lead. Once a service error gave Walkertown possession, the Eagles quickly regained the serve.
Jaylyn Templeton served the final few points for Surry Central as the Eagles took the first set 25-11.
Walkertown struggled in the second set to return Emma Garland’s serves, allowing Central to take a 7-1 lead. Simpson and Blevins continued the all-out assault on the front line as the Eagles’ lead grew. Gracie Brindle subbed in on the back line and had a number of diving saves to keep rallies alive.
It was evident that the Lady Eagles were having fun with everything going right. The bench went berserk when Templeton, a setter by nature who came into Thursday’s match with just two kills on the season, had a number of rally-ending hits to end the set 25-12.
Small mistakes got to Surry Central in the third set, most of which were service errors. The Eagles had nine service errors in the third set alone. This allowed the Wolfpack to stay in the fight longer than previous sets.
An attacking error by the home team gave Walkertown its first lead of the night at 6-5. Neither team gained more than three points at a time in a back-and-forth battle that saw the Pack maintain the advantage.
Surry Central finally regained the advantage at 16-15 thanks to a kill from Goins. Goins, Simpson, and Jordyn Coe had kills in the final points of the match to wrap up the Central win, 25-22.
The road to success continues to wind for the Eagles, with home match-ups against Forbush (14-4, 8-0) and North Surry (10-8, 5-3) in the next seven days.
Tolbert has confidence in her team, but says they’ve got things to work on to contend next week.
“We have to play up-tempo ball,” Tolbert said. “We’ve got to get quicker, we’ve got to get more consistent, and we’ve got to be more in control.
She continued, “The biggest thing, too, is that we’ve got to be smarter. Sometimes we want to go for the power kill when the tip to the empty spot is the better choice. I’m trying to get these girls to be in control on the court, on the bench, everywhere.“
Central’s next match will be at home against Forbush (14-4, 8-0) on October 2.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith