PILOT MOUNTAIN — On paper, the rematch between East Surry and South Stokes was as even as could be. But volleyball matches aren’t played on paper.
Coming into the match, the two teams were fighting for first place in the Northwest 1A Conference, with the Lady Cardinals ranked No. 9 in the state’s 1A ranks and the Lady Sauras one spot behind. East had won when the teams met 16 days earlier, but South Stokes had taken one set and all four were close. Each team had won its last four matches. Something had to give.
What gave is that East Surry continued its mid-season surge, and won handily, 25-12, 25-20, 25-12.
“We’re learning, and we’re growing as a team, and as individuals as well,” said East Surry head coach Caleb Gilley. “Every day, we’re just trying to get better than we were the day before.”
That might be very bad news for any teams trying to prevent East from three-peating as conference champions.
South Stokes (15-4, 4-2 NW1A) was able to mount a strong challenge to the Lady Cardinals in the second set, but was otherwise overwhelmed by a young East squad that seems to amp up its game with every new match.
The Lady Sauras found out how tall of a task winning in Pilot would be early on. After nine points, East Surry led 5-4, but then went on a tear, winning nine of the next 12 points in a run that included thunderous kills by Morgan Smith and Maggie Holt, and an ace by Smith as well. With the score at 14-7, South’s Savannah Nelson scored a kill, and a point later, Lilly Weaver did likewise as their team trried to fight its way back into the set. The score was at 16-10 when East’s Allie Bruner turned the set in her team’s favor for the final time. During a long rally in which both teams made impressive digs, Bruner took a set from Ally McCraw, and instead of loading up for a spike, laid a soft touch shot in front of the South defense for a kill. When Kylie Bruner followed with a block on Weaver, and then McCraw served an ace, the Lady Cardinals were home free, losing just two points the rest of the way.
No team wins 15 out of 18 without doing a lot well, and the Lady Sauras showed that in the early part of set two, winning four of the first six points with a display of power volleyball led by hitting by Weaver and Nelson, and strong setting by Hailey Rothrock. But East Surry responded, with Kylie Bruner scoring off an attack, and then Allie Bruner tying it with another touch shot. McCraw put the Lady Cards ahead with another ace, but the Lady Sauras weren’t backing down, either. After Allie Bruner served an ace to make it 7-5 East, the visitors fought back, tying the set at 7 on an ace by Carly Hall and then surging back in front when Weaver scored a block on Kylie Bruner. Four straight for South had them in front 9-7. East sophomore Emma Brown won the next rally for the Lady Cardinals, and then the red tide started rolling in.
The set was tied at 9, 10, and 11 before the home team took the lead for good. The Lady Sauras hung in for a while, and looked like they’d get back within a point when Allie Bruner had to play a bad bump near the back line. But she fired a perfect shot back over the net that a South back-liner couldn’t play, and made it 18-15. The Lady Sauras got within 19-17 moments later, but served the ball into the net on the next point and East was finally able to put it away down the stretch.
Set three was all Lady Cardinals. They won nine of the first 11 points, including one rally where South Stokes celebrated, only to see East somehow make the dig, and a play where Allie Bruner blasted a kill through a blocker. Lydia Caudill and Weaver tried to bring the Lady Sauras back, but the closest that South could get was at 13-9. East won the next point and then ran off six more in a row with Kylie Bruner on serve, capped by a block by Maggie Holt. Caudill finally ended the run for South, but there was no stopping East. Jessica Clayton served out the match, with Allie Bruner scoring her 17th kill on match point.
East Surry improved to 13-4 overall and 5-0 in conference play. The Lady Cardinals lead both South and Mount Airy by two games in the loss column.
Four East players had all of the team’s kills. Smith had 10, Smith six and Kylie Bruner four. The team’s blocking was exceptional, with Holt collecting six, Brown five, and McCraw, the team’s setter, earning four. McCraw also had 37 assists with no errors. Smith added 19 digs, Anna-Kate Badgett 14 and Allie Bruner 13. The team had just three errors receiving serve all match.
“I thought we did a really good job in serve receive, which led to our offense being really good,” said Gilley, whose team had a strong .286 hitting percentage. “I thought our hitters did a good job. Our block did well, and defensively, we were picking up a lot of balls. Overall, it was a very good game for us.”
The Lady Cardinals take a break from conference play on Monday to visit North Wilkes (2-11).
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.