Mount Airy volleyball coach Chuck Morris experienced a familiar feeling when his Lady Bears dropped the third set of Thursday’s match against North Wilkes.
Just last week, Mount Airy defeated the Lady Vikings in a five-set duel. The Bears won the first two sets, but fell in the third and fourth set before finishing off the win. On Thursday, the coach didn’t want to see his team fall into another decisive fifth set after controlling the early portions of the match.
The Lady Bears (4-0) answered their coach’s challenge, using a hot start and a strong close to defeat North Wilkes (3-2) 25-15 in the fourth set and earn a 3-1 (25-19, 25-20, 22-25, 25-15) victory.
“We just had to get back to playing technically correct volleyball,” Morris said.
Senior setter Sarah Lankford did it all for the Lady Bears in the decisive fourth set, registering three of her team-high five aces and even pouring in three kills with her deadly over-in-two approach. She served Mount Airy to a 6-0 lead to start the set and provided 32 assists on the evening.
Lankford was also responsible for one of the more impressive points on the evening. With Mount Airy holding a 5-0 lead, North Wilkes looked destined for its first point of the set as the ball fell towards the floor on the right side, but a diving Lankford reached the ball and floated it over the net into an area unoccupied by Lady Vikings for a unique kill.
“That’s just the kind of player Sarah is,” Morris said. “She made that great save but also has such a great understanding of where to be on the floor. She’s the quarterback of the team.”
Mount Airy closed out the fourth set with some impressive play from Sadie Brooks and Megan Fleming. Brooks recorded four kills in the set, including two during Mount Airy’s four-point run at the end to clinch the match. The Bears saw their lead increase from 17-13 to 21-13 on Fleming’s serve, and the senior recorded four aces in the match.
Brooks and the Lady Bears got off to a tremendous start on Thursday in a relatively easy 25-19 win in the first set. Brooks had three of her game-high 14 kills during the first frame.
Middle hitter Arry Ward finished the set off with a block to give Mount Airy the 25-19 win, and Ward continued that momentum with three blocks in the second set. She finished the night with five solo blocks and also recorded the game-winning point in the second frame, this time with a kill to seal a 25-20 win.
Ward’s progression is a welcome sign for the Lady Bears as they try to replace their two talented middle hitters, Katie Hicks and Abby Harold, from last year’s team.
“Arry really has picked up her game offensively,” Morris said. “We always knew she would be a big blocker at the net, and now she’s picking her volleyball IQ up and getting smarter at the net.”
Another Lady Bear who shined on defense on Thursday was libero Kayla Hicks, who recorded 20 digs and had numerous moments of excellence on the back row. Coach Morris went out of his way to congratulate Kayla on her stellar performance after the game.
Mount Airy struggled on defense, though, and got out of system offensively in the third set. North Wilkes capitalized, jumping out to an 8-4 lead and holding on for a 25-22 win.
However, the stress for Mount Airy stopped there, and the Lady Bears continued their undefeated start to the 2016 season. A challenging week lies ahead for Mount Airy as it faces on Monday and travels to local rival North Surry on Tuesday.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16