DOBSON — Nobody goes into the season aspiring to finish second. But for North Surry and Surry Central, runner-up in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference will bring a nice bonus in the form of opening the 2A state volleyball playoffs with a home match.
The Lady Greyhounds and Lady Golden Eagles will likely need a rubber match to decide that.
North Surry avenged an earlier loss and spoiled Central’s Senior Night in the process on Thursday, scoring a 25-19, 25-20, 25-20 win that left the teams deadlocked for that all-important second position in the WPAC. Forbush, which has been ranked in the state’s top 10 2A teams most of the season, clinched the conference title on Thursday with a win over Walkertown. But the question of “who’s on second?” likely won’t be answered until the conference tournament.
North (13-8, 7-3 WPAC) has only a Tuesday doubleheader with league cellar-dweller Carver remaining in conference action. Central (10-10, 7-3) has a tougher road next week, with league tilts at Walkertown on Tuesday and at West Stokes on Thursday, but swept both teams in the first meeting.
If everything holds to form the rest of the way, a semifinal meeting between the Eagles and Hounds in the WPAC tournament is likely, and will decide who gets No. 2 and the home playoff match. If they don’t meet, which of the two goes farther or makes the finals will get the nod.
“If we play in the semifinal, whoever wins will get the No. 2 seed,” said North Surry head coach Shane Slate. “If one of us loses in the first round, whoever gets to the finals will get it.”
The Lady Eagles recognized seniors Emma Garland, Jenna Simpson and Tara Blevins for their contributions to Central volleyball prior to the match. The team has been one of the biggest surprises in the region, having lost two seniors to college volleyball and their coach after an 11-15 campaign in 2017. Surry Central started this season 0-5, but has been near the top of the WPAC standings all season.
However, the team faced a serious handicap on Senior Night. Three seniors were recognized, but only two were able to take the court. Middle hitter Simpson, the team leader in kills, kill percentage and blocks, is nursing a tendon injury and was not able to play. The Lady Hounds took full advantage of this — although head coach Brittany Tolbert was still proud of how her shorthanded team competed.
“Not having Jenna did hurt us,” she said. “She’s one of our big hitters, and we had to switch some things around. Tara really stepped it up for us tonight, and I can’t thank her enough for being such a versatile player, going from right-side to middle and still being effective.
“I felt like all of the girls stepped up tonight and played for Jenna, but I felt her energy and her being on that court would have made a difference for us.”
In fairness, North’s victory was still well-earned. The Lady Hounds were hitting rockets in warm-ups, and it carried over to the match itself. They struggled with serving and serve receive, but came out swinging and built a 13-4 lead in the first set on dominant hitting by Jessi Shelnutt, strong serving by sister Evann Shelnutt, and strong setting by Delaney Fulk. Central finally started to get into system after that and crept back into the set, even having some highlights such as two blocks by Jordyn Coe and two aces by Blevins, but after closing the gap to 14-11 at one point, never got closer than four points in the opening set again.
“We’re still digging ourselves into a hole,” said Tolbert, who hopes to have Simpson back next week. “Consistency is something we’re working on and trying to find it before the conference tournament.”
Set two was a different story. More strong serving from Blevins got Central even at 8 after it had trailed early on. Jessi Shelnutt, who had eight kills with no errors and a whopping .571 kill percentage, answered with one of her kills and then a service ace. But while the Lady Eagles may have been down on the scoreboard and in the lineup, they weren’t out. Garland got a side-out, and then Madison Goins began punishing North with her serve, delivering back-to-back aces that displeased Slate enough to ask for a time-out. However, it didn’t help. Goins’ next serve couldn’t be returned in three hits, and Central led 12-10. Then Coe got a size mismatch on Fulk up front and blocked her. Another ace followed before the Hounds thankfully caught a break when Goins’ serve at 14-10 sailed just long.
“We were really good at times, although I was disappointed that we had some unforced errors, especially serving,” said Slate. “On Tuesday night, we had 96.5 percent on serving, and today we had 10 missed serves. Consistency has been our bugaboo all season, and it almost cost us the second and third set, but we made enough good plays to compensate for it.”
North rallied and eventually tied the set at 17 and 18 before Camille Cartwright had a kill to put North in front 19-18. She, Jessi Shelnutt and Moxley were all strong down the stretch as the visitors pulled out set two.
The third set was more back-and-forth. Abigail Johnson, who had a very strong game as Central’s libero, had an early ace as the Lady Eagles took the lead, only for Evann Shelnutt to lead her team on a 4-0 run. Coe crushed a bad dig that went over the net, Goins scored on an on-two attack, and then Mia McMillen hit one off a would-be blocker. Central was back in front, and eventually got to 9-5 on another Johnson ace and some bad hitting by North Surry. They held the lead for a time, pushing it back to 13-9 on an ace by McMillen, but then the Lady Hounds fought back in the middle of the set, getting back-to-back kills by Emma Haynes and then two more from Cartwright to lead 17-16. Evann Shelnutt broke a 19-all tie with a kill, and then Garland was just wide on an attack to tie it. Central couldn’t catch up again and Haynes eventually served out the set.
Jessi Shelnutt and Cartwright led North with eight kills each. Evann Shelnutt and Haynes had six each and Moxley five. Fulk had 26 assists and Moxley two. Cartwright and Michaela Stone had 16 digs and Evann Shelnutt 13. As a team, North had a .281 kill percentage.
Reach John Cate via Twitter at @johncate73.