PILOT MOUNTAIN — Through four sets, the showdown of the state’s top-ranked 2A volleyball and the fourth-ranked 1A team couldn’t have been any closer.
Host East Surry pummeled North Surry in set one. Not to be outdone, the Lady Greyhounds returned the favor in set two, by the same score. Then the Lady Cardinals pulled away late to win set three, only to see North respond with the decision in set four, again by the same score that East had won the third set.
And so for the third time in a row, the old rivals went the distance, and yet again, it was North Surry that pulled out the victory, 13-25, 25-13, 19-25, 25-19, 15-7. The Lady Hounds improved to 10-0 on the season and have only lost five sets in so doing — four of them against the Lady Cardinals.
It was a match where both teams performed at a high level, but both had a set where their respective coaches felt there was a letdown. For North, it came in the first set, and for the hosts, it came in the fourth, when East Surry had a chance to put the match away.
“Unfortunately, we don’t play well early,” said North Surry head coach Shane Slate, whose team also dropped the first set at Forbush the day before. “Against a good team like East, we had 11 unforced errors in the first set and that’s not the way to be successful against good teams.”
The Lady Hounds came back and crushed it in the second set, where East Surry (9-2) was never really in contention, and carried that momentum into set three, with an 8-4 lead after 12 points had been played. But the Lady Cardinals answered by winning nine of the next 11 points to take a 13-10 lead. At one point, East’s Morgan Smith served an ace to tie it at 9 and force Slate to call a time-out, but it didn’t help. When North finally did right the ship, reeling off six straight thanks to strong net play by Camille Cartwright and serving from Paige Sizemore, the Lady Cardinals refused to back down. They ran off four straight of their own and regained the lead at 17-16 after back-to-back kills by Bethany Clayton.
“When you have good teams playing each other, you’re going too have a lot of that up and down,” said Slate.
The teams tied at 17, 18 and 19 before a service error put East ahead again. Sarah Marion put a winner just inside the back line to make it a two-point lead for the home team, and then Clayton served an ace. After Allie Bruner put a ball off a Lady Hound, the set was all but over and East led the match 2-1.
Mikaela Johnson, who led the Lady Hounds with 16 kills, opened set four with a thunderous spike. The set was a classic display of North Surry power volleyball, in which the visitors led early. East rallied to tie the set at 7 on a Marion ace followed by a kill by Clayton, but when the former put a serve into the net, the Lady Hounds led the rest of the way. They built a seven-point lead before East tried to rally on a Clayton spike followed by a hitting error from North to make it 22-18. But Paige Sizemore got a winner off a would-be East Surry blocker and halted any swing in the momentum.
“We felt like all of the momentum was one our side going into the fourth set, and we just didn’t do our jobs,” said East Surry coach Caleb Gilley.
Set five began with Johnson putting one off Clayton at the net. East’s Emma Brown did the same to Camille Cartwright to tie, but then Johnson and Evann Shelnutt hit winners to put North back on top. At 3-1, there was a huge controversy on a play where Clayton appeared to have hit a winner off a Lady Hound block attempt, which then deflected out of bounds. The referee ruled that no one from North touched the ball and therefore awarded them the point. Both Clayton and Gilley protested, but to no avail.
Clayton put the ball into the net on the next point and North pushed its lead to 7-1 on back-to-back kills by Martha Holt.
“We lost the momentum on a controversial call,” said Gilley. “But we have to be better than that, and not allow a call to make us not score the next 4-5 points. We have to be mentally tougher than that.”
East Surry never got closer than five points again. With North holding seven match points at 14-6, the Lady Cardinals won the match’s longest rally and Slate called a time-out, but it proved unnecessary as his team won the match on the next point.
“We are really an experienced team,” said Slate. “All juniors and seniors, and a lot of kids who have played a lot of volleyball. It’s Mikaela’s fourth varsity year, and Dixie and Paige have three-plus in terms of experience, and I think long matches are going to be in our favor.”
Gilley felt like his team let North off the hook, but also noted that it was the type of match his team will play in the postseason.
“North Surry is a good team and they’re going to make a deep run in the state playoffs, and we’re right there with them,” he said. “We feel good about that. This is the type of competition, and the level that you want to be playing at.”
Cartwright reached double figures in kills for North with 11, and Sizemore added nine. Shelnutt had 29 digs, followed by Holt (16), Sizemore (15) and Dixie Fulk with 14. In addition to her 16 kills, Johnson scored six blocks.
Clayton led East Surry with 15 kills, followed by Bruner with 14 and Marion with nine. Smith had 25 digs, followed by 23 for Clayton and 15 for Bruner.