One of the the things that makes North Surry’s volleyball team so tough to beat is the team’s talent and versatility up and down the roster. If head coach Shane Slate goes to his bench, there’s very little, if any, drop-off in the level of the Lady Greyhounds’ play.
Although it wasn’t his intent, Slate demonstrated just how deep his team is on Thursday evening. On Senior Night, the coach deployed all six of his senior players for much of the match, especially in the first set. and came away with a straight-set victory.
OK, sure. You can do this against a league bottom-feeder and it’s not going to make a difference, right? Well, Slate did it against the second-place team in the conference, with the outright league title and No. 1 playoff seed on the line, and the Lady Hounds claimed an 25-13, 25-21, 25-19 victory over Forbush, which entered the match 16-5 overall and 8-1 in Western Piedmont Athletic Conference play.
“We always try to start all of our seniors on Senior Night,” said Slate. “This was a little bit of a creative lineup, with some folks doing some things they’re not always used to, but I’ve got as skilled of a group as I’ve had. All 12 of our players can do a lot of things, and I think you saw that in the first set.”
North Surry (20-4, 10-0 WPAC) locked up its eighth straight outright conference title and did so in style, with Lady Hound seniors Whitney Hall, Kaylee Freed, Maggie Hawks, Anna Martin, Cidney Fulk and Arin Bunker all playing important roles in the victory. In fact, the team’s normal middle hitters, juniors Mikaela Johnson and Martha Holt, were on the court for well under half of the match. The seniors were simply playing too well, and Slate let them do most of the work of earning some new hardware for the North Surry trophy case.
“The key is our passing,” Slate said. “We have five kids in that group of seniors who can pass the volleyball, and if you can pass, you’ve got a chance in every match you play. Those kids have worked very hard on that part of their game.”
Hall was the star of set one, spending most of her time at the left outside hitter position. She got the Lady Hounds going after Forbush had won two of the first three points, putting a kill away to win a very long rally. She also had the kill on the next point, and then scored another one to make it 5-2. After two more points went into the books for the home team, Hall scored off a rejection to make it 8-2 and force Forbush coach Amber Fulk to call time-out.
It didn’t matter, as North Surry kept rolling, and so did Hall, who drilled a ball off a Lady Falcon back-line defender to make it 12-5. Forbush was able to trade points for a while after that and even close the gap a little, but North Surry then reeled off four in a row to lead 19-11. At 20-13, Bunker scored off an on-two kill from the setter position and then went to the back line and served an ace. One more Hall kill followed, and then Johnson, who finally got into the set late, scored the winner off a block.
The second set looked like it was going to be a rout, but Forbush made it very interesting before it was done.
The Lady Hounds seemed to take control of the set shortly after Paige Sizemore powered a kill past Forbush’s Parkley Hennings to make it 7-4. North then went on a mini-run, interrupted only briefly when the Lady Falcons’ Bailey Gentry scored off a spike and an ace. Dixie Fulk fooled Forbush on an on-two play of her own, then served an ace. When Hall put away the next point for the Lady Hounds, it was 19-9 and the rout appeared to be on.
Not so fast, though. The visitors promptly reeled off an 11-2 run that saw Mackenzie Fulk and Colby Crater make impressive kills and North Surry commit a few ball-handling errors. When Sizemore tried to angle one inside the line and watched it sail out of bounds, the Lady Falcons were within a point, at 21-20. The next play was controversial, as one of the officials called a double-hit on a Forbush player during a rally and awarded the point to the Lady Hounds. Still, Forbush battled back and Crater won the next point on a dump shot. But Kaylee Freed responded for North, hitting back-to-back winners and then scoring a block on set point, 25-21.
Forbush again tested the Lady Hounds in set three. Lexia Wingler drilled an over-dig to make it 4-1, and then Hennings picked up a block against Hall. When Mackenzie Fulk served an ace, the lead was up to 7-1 and it looked like North might have to play an extra set to be crowned as champs. However, North wasn’t in any mood to do that. Bunker briefly swung things back in the direction of the Lady Hounds with a block, but then an unlikely kill by Forbush libero Sidney Matthews and a borderline call by the officials in the visitors’ favor turned things their way again.
North Surry finally managed to get back into the set in the middle portion of play, closing to within two points. They were down 13-10 when Dixie Fulk made herself heard from. With her team down 13-10, she made an excellent cross-court pass to Johnson for a kill, then caught the Lady Falcon defense by surprise when she had Johnson on her left and Bunker on her right. With everyone expecting Johnson to get the ball, she set Bunker instead and watched the senior put it away to close North to within one. She also had the next two kills for North before a hitting error by Forbush finally tied it at 16. The Lady Hounds never trailed again, taking the lead for good when Dixie Fulk set Freed for a kill that made it 18-17. Freed then scored a block on the next point. The Lady Falcons closed to within 20-19 a few minutes later, and appeared to have it tied when Hawks chased down a ball near the bleachers and sent it back into play, where North won the point moments later. That was the end of the suspense, and North won out, with Hall fittingly hitting a winner from the outside left spot on match point.
Hall’s outstanding performance in her last regular-season home match saw her lead the team with 13 kills, and she also had 10 digs. Freed was next with nine kills, and Bunker collected six, to go along with nine assists and two aces. Sizemore had 18 digs and Martin 17. Dixie Fulk had 19 assists even though she played just two sets.
Hawks led the team with 29 digs. She pased 1,000 career digs earlier this season in a win over Surry Central, and now stands at 1,131 for her career.
The Lady Hounds are off until the conference tournament gets under way next week. Both North and Forbush will have opening-round byes in the six-team affair.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.