The final regular-season matches for East Surry’s volleyball team are little more than a victory lap, but the Lady Cardinals aren’t letting up with the postseason looming.
East already locked up its third straight Northwest 1A Conference title last week, but still had a road match with arch-rival Mount Airy coming up on Tuesday night, which meant bragging rights were on the line at the very least. Unfortunately for the Lady Bears, there was no stopping East, currently ranked No. 3 among 1A teams by MaxPreps.com. The visitors cruised to a 25-15, 25-9, 25-16 win.
East Surry (17-4, 8-0 NW1A) has lost just one set in a nine-match winning streak that has seen the Lady Cardinals not only win their third league title in a row, but also play their way into discussions about championship contenders. Individually, a number of East Surry players are at or near the top of many statistical categories. Mount Airy found it very difficult to compete with East.
“It’s a testament to how hard we have worked,” said Lady Cardinal head coach Caleb Gilley. “A lot of people didn’t think we could win the conference again, much less go undefeated.”
Early in the match, the Lady Bears (11-10, 5-4) seemed focused defensively on junior Allie Bruner, who took the 1A state lead in kills last week. On one rally early in the match, three different blockers turned away left-side attacks by Bruner, but Emma Brown ended up hitting a winner from the middle to make it 5-3 in the visitors’ favor. From there, the Lady Cards pushed it to 7-3 on an ace by Ally McCraw before Hanne Cooke managed a side-out for Mount Airy. Brown got the better of Cooke on the next point, though, and East ran its lead up to 13-6 before Lady Bear head coach Chuck Morris called for a time-out.
The break seemed to rally Mount Airy, and it won the next four points, including a block by Avery Cox and a service ace by Bailey Sizemore. But when Allie Bruner hit a ball from midcourt that Sizemore couldn’t play off her back line, momentum swung back to the red team. East went on a 7-2 run that featured back-to-back booming kills by Allie Bruner and a block from Kylie Bruner before Morris asked for time again. But at 20-12, it was just a matter of time before East closed out the set.
The Lady Cards’ Morgan Smith opened set two with an ace and East never trailed. However, the Lady Bears did fight back after East won the first five points of the set, getting within 5-4, 6-5 and 8-7 before Allie Bruner sparked a 6-0 Cardinal run that featured two aces and a nifty angle shot from Maggie Holt for a kill. When Mount Airy finally did win a point to make it 13-8, it just seemed to make the newly-crowned champs mad. East Surry responded with a 10-0 run with Leah Hayes at the service line and the Lady Cards’ younger front-line players, freshman Kylie Bruner and sophomore Brown, doing a lot of the damage. Holt got in on the fun late in the run, crushing an over-hit by the Lady Bears to make it 20-8 and later blocking Cox to make it 22-8. Mount Airy got a side-out at 23-9, but Morgan Smith beat Cox in a duel at the net on the next point and then East took the set.
“They have stepped up, and hopefully they will continue to do so,” Gilley said of his young attackers, who had to step into the enormous shoes of departed seniors Bethany Clayton and Sarah Marion coming into this year. “We still have a long way to go, but I think we are on the right path now.”
Set three started out much more competitive. The Lady Bears’ Elizabeth Heck tied the score at 3 by smashing a ball past and off Brown. Allie Bruner won the next point for East, but then Mount Airy won two in a row, including a spike from Piper Draughon that put her team on top 5-4. Kylie Bruner tied it, but then Draughon had another winner. Unfortunately for Mount Airy, the younger Bruner caught fire and helped her team roll out to a 9-6 before Morris was asking for time again. Smith and Draughon traded kills, but the Lady Cardinals had too many weapons. Holt scored off a dink shot and then smashed a kill when a ball rebounded back across the net right into her sights. It was 14-7 before a bad serve gave the Lady Bears another chance at the service line, but East was able to more or less trade blows until reaching match point at 24-13. Mount Airy saved three match points before succumbing.
Allie (11 kills) and Kylie (10) Bruner led the Lady Cardinal attack, with Holt adding nine. East Surry had 12 blocks in the match, including eight by Holt. Allie Bruner had 25 digs, Smith 19 and Anna-Kate Badgett 13, while 1A state assists leader McCraw added 34 to her tally.
East Surry completes its regular season on Thursday against Winston-Salem Prep, while the Lady Bears host Elkin for Senior Night tonight.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.