STATESVILLE — MaxPreps has insisted all season long that these were the two best 2A volleyball teams in the state.
If they’re wrong, then the true No. 1 is something to behold indeed.
West Iredell and North Surry battled through four sets of some of the finest volleyball that anyone could ever hope to see. Each of the first two sets went beyond the regulation 25 points without a winner, with both sides saving set points before each team finally pulled out a win.
After that, the home team was able to gain just a bit of an advantage, riding a brilliant performance from senior outside hitter Lucy Ann Ferguson to earn a 27-25, 26-28, 25-20, 25-17 victory and advance to the 2A state championship match on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
North Surry’s season ends with a 29-2 record. Both teams that beat the Lady Greyhounds were playing on Tuesday night, with West advancing and Ronald Reagan falling in five sets in the 4A West Regional final.
“They are a great defensive team, one of the few teams we’ve seen this season that is always in the right spot on every play,” said North Surry head coach Shane Slate. “I’m disappointed that we lost, but we lost to a really good team. I thought we could have played a little better than we did.
“Hats off to them, it’s been a great year. It’s just that when you get this close, you want to play for the big prize next week.”
For North Surry, the difference in the match likely came in the opening set. The Lady Hounds started off strong, getting solid defense, passing and attacking by junior outside hitter Camille Cartwright. North built a 13-4 lead, but after West coach David Parsons used his second time-out, the Warriors battled their way back into the set, tying the score at 18 and then taking a 19-18 lead when Emily Bustle served an ace. However, just when it looked like the home team might run away with it, Martha Holt came running in to save a bad bump that was going out of bounds, reversing its direction for a set-tying kill. West Iredell took the lead twice more, but North tied it every time before going on a run that gave them a 24-22 lead.
With the set on the line, the Warriors knew where to go to. Ferguson, a 5’9” dynamo who came into the night with 368 kills to her credit, carried the team on her back down the stretch run, scoring two kills to tie the score and then making a dig when North earned a third set point at 25-24. Finally, the Lady Hounds ran out of chances. West Iredell won the last three points of the set, scoring an ace on set point to lead the match one set to none.
“Losing that first set was huge, especially after we had built all of that momentum early,” said Slate. “I felt like we kind of took our foot off the gas, and luckily we hung in there and still had a chance to win the set, but we were so out of sync and it cost us the first set.”
North was down, but it was far from out. The teams traded blows like the heavyweights they were in the early part of set two, and there were seven ties in the first 24 points. Finally, at 12-all, the Warriors made a bad serve, and this time the Lady Hounds were able to get their noses in front and stay there. However, it wasn’t easy. They built a 17-14 lead, and then Ferguson hit back-to-back winners from the same spot on the outside right of her team’s formation. Holt answered for North by simply not attacking her, but instead dropping a dink shot into an open spot. Then Paige Sizemore powered a shot off Amber Wooten to make it a three-point game again. Parsons called time, and Ferguson struck again with a ball that North couldn’t return in three hits. But Sizemore, one of five Lady Hounds playing in their final match, won a long rally with a dink shot to make it a three-point lead again.
West Iredell (27-3) wouldn’t back down, and their partisan crowd wouldn’t let their heroes do so. Katelyn McClure slammed back an overhit and Bustle made a kill. Cartwright answered for North by driving a ball past McKenzy Sharpe’s block. Back and forth it went until Parsons called time with his team down 24-22. Again Ferguson won the next two points and the set went past regulation. But this time, North made all of the plays when the set was tied at 24, 25 and 26. Holt and Sizemore battled Ferguson and McClure, and the Lady Hounds finally put two in a row together and won set two.
“We were having to put too much into every single play, because we were out of position too much,” said Slate.
Unfortunately, that was the high-water mark for North Surry. The Lady Hounds fought to the end, but the home team jumped out to a 9-4 lead in set three and North spent the rest of the time playing catch-up. There were a number of times when the Lady Hounds managed to get within three points. The first time was at 15-12 after two kills by Mikaela Johnson, but five of the next six went to West. At 20-13, Emma Haynes made a kill for North and then the Lady Hounds make a late run which featured an ace by Sizemore, Cartwright and Dixie Fulk blocking Ferguson for a point, and then Haynes scored again the right. When Cartwright blasted one that Ferguson couldn’t play off the back, it was 21-19 and Parsons called time-out. However, West settled down after that and won four of the last five points to claim victory, with Slate’s time-out unable to halt the momentum.
With their season on the line, the Lady Hounds came out for set four and traded blows early on before making a move that started with Sizemore’s ace for a 7-all tie. They managed to get to a 10-8 lead when Cartwright scored a kill off a back-liner, but then the Warriors ran off six straight points and never trailed again. Johnson made it 14-11 with a hard spike, but then West Iredell won five of the next six, including one circus shot by Sharpe that fell in for a kill, followed by a serve by Bustle that smacked into the tape of the top of the net and then naturally landed on the North Surry side of the court for an ace. However, it wasn’t all luck, with Sharpe blasting a kill off the face of a Lady Hound back-liner (who stayed in the game anyway), and more outstanding play by Ferguson. North Surry was unable to mount a rally down the stretch.
Sizemore, Fulk, Johnson, Holt and Karlie Marion all completed their careers with the Lady Hounds with the loss.
Johnson led North Surry with nine kills. Sizemore, Cartwright and Holt all had eight, with Haynes picking up six. Fulk had 37 assists, with Evann Shelnutt grinding out 39 assists for her team. Holt had 23.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.