North Surry volleyball falls in 2A West finale
NEWTON — For the past three seasons, Newton-Conover has been bounced from the volleyball playoffs by the eventual 2A state champion.
Starmount knocked them out last year in the quarterfinals on its way to the 2A crown. North Surry did likewise in the 2009 quarterfinals, while West Henderson had the honors in 2008.
Taking no chances this fall, the Red Devils loaded up on their opportunities to scout the teams they perceived to be their greatest threats to reaching Raleigh and the 2011 state title match.
They brought a strong contingent of players and coaches to a North Surry-Starmount regular season match on a Saturday afternoon in October. Newton-Conover had representatives at Starmount’s first-round playoff duel against West Stokes as well as the North Surry-Starmount showdown in the second round last week.
All of that homework, plus some savvy defense and in-game adjustments on Tuesday night, helped Newton-Conover finally get over the hump. Facing North Surry for the 2A West championship, the Red Devils recovered after losing the first game 25-23 to sweep the next three games 25-10, 25-20 and 25-20, and earned the right to play for their first state title in the sport.
North Surry’s season, which featured a third-straight Final Four appearance, came to an end at 30-3.
“It took everybody on my team to win this game,” Newton-Conover coach Linda Richards said amid the post-match celebration. “The bench did a great job. We already had a scouting report on them, what their tendencies were. The bench kept them updated on who was where and what they were going to do … And they did a great job on the court. Everybody – my setters, my defense and my hitters.”
North Surry stole some of the thunder from a raucous home crowd of Red Devil fans by winning game one. Play was nip-and-tuck throughout, with eight ties and multiple lead changes.
Newton-Conover held a 20-18 advantage and later a 22-20 edge after Isabella Zaliagiris hit a winner between two blockers. But the Greyhounds reeled off five of the next six points to steal the set. Kristina Rumplasch hit a kill for North Surry, but the Red Devils hurt themselves with three unforced errors coming down the stretch.
Game two, though, was a different story. Newton-Conover got its offense untracked, with Zaliagiris and Corbin Evans repeatedly finding gaps – in some cases big holes — in the defense for kills. Both went cross-court several times for winners, helping grow the lead in game two to 10-3, 13-4 and later 19-6.
Newton-Conover did a better job of getting blockers up on North Surry’s top hitters, Morgan Bunker, Molly Martin, Rumplasch and Malaya Johnson, who had enjoyed a solid first set in the middle. The Greyhounds were the team making the mistakes in game two.
“Our biggest weapon all season has been our ability to pass the ball,” North Surry coach Shane Slate said. “For whatever reason after the first set we had a hard time getting the ball to target in serve receive. And that kind of snowballed on us. About halfway through that third game we started passing a little bit better and things were back nip and tuck. Then they made plays and we made plays, but they made a few more than we did.”
Newton-Conover shot out to leads of 5-1, 9-3 and 12-5 in game three. While the Greyhounds were able to reel the Devils in some – getting as close as two points at 13-11 – they never could come all the way back.
North Surry built an early 4-point lead in game four but that didn’t last. The teams were tied 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 11-11 and 12-12 before Newton-Conover went on a little spurt to pull ahead by 3 points. The Greyhounds thought they had tied the game 16-16 after a rally. But that point eventually was overturned, and the Red Devils instead had a 17-15 lead.
North Surry kept fighting, eventually tying the game again at 18-18, then taking a brief 19-18 lead after a kill in the middle from Brooke Johnson.
Setter Bailey Culler then tried to push a drop shot over the net to catch the Red Devils off guard. But her dink rolled back off the net and dropped on the North Surry side, tying the game 19-19. It was maddening little things like that which helped push the game – and ultimately the match – to the Red Devils.
Newton-Conover closed on a 6-1 run, setting off a wild celebration at midcourt among players and fans after Zaliagiris won the match with an ace. North Surry meanwhile spent the next 10 minutes in the locker room before returning to the floor to mix with their fans. Fittingly, the Greyhounds got a nice ovation – from both the North Surry contingent in attendance and many wearing Newton-Conover colors – when they came back out onto the gym floor.
“North Surry is a fantastic team, and they beat fantastic teams to get here – Starmount, Wheatmore,” Richards said. “Morgan Bunker, Rumplasch, Molly Martin – they are all great players … We played smarter (after game one). We made some errors and we knew we didn’t care of the ball in some situations, and we fixed that in the second, third and fourth games.”
In the end, the Red Devils just had a little more weaponry and played a little more crisp all around.
“We didn’t do a good job moving our feet and handling more of their serves,” Slate said. “Defensively, they got better swings because we weren’t able to put as much pressure on them. That first ball in serve receive, we weren’t getting it to target, so that means we were having to roll more and not being able to run our offense. We made mistakes, they made mistakes. But they made more positive plays than we did.”
North Surry will lose four seniors off this year’s team, most notably Midkiff (starting libero) and Bunker (last year’s conference MVP and possibly this year’s as well, though the 2011 all-conference team hasn’t been announced yet). Brooke Johnson and Amanda Worth are the other 12th-graders.
Hitters Rumplasch and Martin are juniors. Malaya Johnson is a promising 6-foot-2 sophomore hitter, while setter Bailey Culler also is a sophomore. Defensive specialist Maddison Hawks, who has a solid serve, is a junior.
“I hate it for our seniors because they have had such a good year,” Slate said. “You win 30 matches three consecutive seasons, that is a pretty good career … But we’ve got a good nucleus coming back. We’re going to have to get to work if we want to enjoy this kind of success next year.”
Newton-Conover will play Northeastern for the 2A title on Saturday at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum. Northeastern lost to Starmount 3-1 in last year’s state finale and beat Farmville Central 3-0 on Tuesday to get back to the title match.
While North Surry won’t be there this time, a team from their conference will be competing for a state crown. North Stokes advanced to the 1A state title match with a 3-1 win over Murphy on Tuesday.
Newton-Conover 3, North Surry 1
2A West Regional Final * Tuesday * at Newton
Game Scores: Newton-Conover won 23-25, 25-10, 25-20, 25-20
North Surry Stat Leaders
Morgan Bunker: 17 kills, 21 digs
Kristina Rumplasch: 8 kills, 11-for-12 serving, 1 ace
Malaya Johnson: 7 kills, 5 blocks
Molly Martin: 13 digs, 16-for-16 serving
Morgan Midkiff: 12 digs
Bailey Culler: 36 assists
Brooke Johnson: 5 blocks
Maddison Hawks: 10-for-11 serving, 1 ace
North Surry 30-3