Wheatmore volleyball sweeps East Duplin
Wheatmore continued to make school history in volleyball.
The Warriors, who had never been this far in the state volleyball playoffs, defeated previously unbeaten East Duplin 25-17, 25-19, 25-9 to earn a spot in to the NCHSAA 2-A East Regional final.
The Warriors (26-1), who beat Carrboro 3-2, will play the South Granville-Southern Vance winner in the regional final next week. East Duplin, which had not been taken to five sets all year but led only twice against the Warriors, finishes 22-1.
“We played our game,” Wheatmore coach Rodney Kirby said. “We jumped out ahead and once we got out ahead we can stay aggressive. If we get behind, we tend to go into a defensive mode and don’t swing quite as hard looking to put the ball in play.
“But when we’re ahead even by two or three points we can swing away because we know we’ve got that two-point cushion. We talked about that a lot in practice because that’s why we went five games in the last match (against Carrboro).
“We won the first two and the third game got tight and all of sudden they tightened up and we started playing safe. So when we came back in game five I told them look, take the governors off and just swing away, and that’s exactly what they did. That’s why we won.
“And that’s what we did today. Today, there was no safety. It’s just go ahead. We gave them freewill to go ahead and swing away. That’s what they did. They found the spots.”
East Duplin coach Liz Turner said she knew the Warriors were athletic and experienced, having played club ball for several years.
“The only good thing about playoffs is it’s not like I would have to play them 10 times and beat them 10 times. We only had to have a little bit of luck and be better one day,” she said. “I can’t say enough about my girls. My girls fought hard, and I thought we played very well. That’s just a hell of a ballclub right there.”
Two things stood out for the Warriors – their high-flying, hammering hitters and their quick sets, which saw the hitters smack the ball just as it reached the top of the net instead of after a high-arcing set that allows a defense to get set up.
Three players had double-digit hits for Wheatmore: Georgia Garrison (17), Kathryn Johnson (14) and Davey Albertson, who had 10 kills and 10 blocks.
Amber Hall lead East Duplin with 12 kills and Makayla Byrd had nine.
Setter Kelly Davis, with 44 assists, was instrumental in setting up the quick sets, which East Duplin had not seen much of this year. They seemed to catch the Panthers off guard, although Turner said she had watched film along with studying up on the Warriors and knew that was a strategy they would likely deploy.
“My game plan was to stop their outsides,” she said. “I adjusted my middles over for the quickness of the quick sets, but they’re just a good team.”
Kirby pointed to Davis as the key to the quick sets, which often came after a well-orchestrated alignment shift on the fly at the net.
“Kelly in my opinion is the best setter in the state,” he said. “If Kelly sees you out of the corner of her eye move to cheat to a hitter, she’s going to go the other way. She caught them a lot doing that, and she catches a lot of teams doing that. She knew when the middles cheated over the quick was going to be there, and that’s when we took it.”
Kirby said he had to make his own adjustments to the Panthers, whom he called an “extremely good team” with strong hitters and a defense that “gets after you” led by libero Carson Williams, who was The Daily News player of the year in 2012.
As the libero, Williams, who had 24 digs, wears a white jersey instead of a blue on like her teammates.
“Their libero is awesome. She’s phenomenal. She touched everything we hit,” Kirby said. “I couldn’t wait for the coach to call a timeout … because I was going to tell my girls, ‘See the girl in the other colored jersey, don’t hit it at her.’”
Not that Williams was the only Panther digging the ball.
“They get after you on defense. We’re not used to seeing the ball come off the floor that many times,” Kirby said. “We’re used to seeing the ball hit the floor and go play the next point.”
East Duplin led twice early in the first set at 1-0 on a block by Amber Hall and 2-1 a kill by Kati Sholar. But that the only time the Panthers led in the match. Wheatmore scored 11 of the final 16 points to win the first set on two straight kills by Garrison, the second a monstrous spike that Williams was unable to dig.
The Warriors scored the first two points of the second set and led 12-6 on a kill by Garrison. The Panthers pulled within 19-16 and 20-17, but Wheatmore closed on a 5-2 run with a kill by Johnson from midcourt the decisive point.
Wheatmore dominated the third set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and going up 6-1 on a kill by Garrison. The Panthers pulled within three but could get no closer, and the Warriors closed out the match on an ace by Johnson.
“This was a good game. We didn’t pass as well as we can, but hitting-wise that’s about our number,” Kirby said. “Overall, we played really, really well.”
Wheatmore 25 25 25
East Duplin 17 19 9
LEADING PLAYERS—W: Brown 7 kills; Davis 44 assists; Garrison 17 kills; Johnson 14 kills; Grubb 5 kills, 4 blocks; Albertson 10 kills, 10 blocks. ED: Byrd 9 kills, 1 block’ Hall 12 kills, 9 service points, 1 block; Sanderson 16 digs, 11 service points; Williams 24 digs, 8 service points; White 30 assists, 6 digs. RECORDS—W: 26-1, vs. winner South Granville-Southern Nash for East Regional title, TBA. ED: 22-1, season complete.