By David Rogers. October 24, 2017. BOONE, NC — A first set loss to visiting Tuscola may have been just what Watauga needed to bring some energy to Lentz-Eggers Gym Tuesday night. The Pioneers rallied to beat the Mountaineers and advance to the third round of the North Carolina 3A Volleyball Championships, 3-1 (24-26, 25-14, 25-20, 25-15).
COVER IMAGE: Rebekah Farthing (6), looks for a kill shot. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Watauga will play the winner of Wednesday’s second round match between Cox Mill (Concord, NC) and Alexander Central (Taylorsville). If Cox Mill wins that match, Watauga will play on Thursday in Concord. If Alexander Central prevails tomorrow, then Watauga will host the Cougars on Thursday.
When it comes to the state tournament, you have to throw the seeds out the window.
Thanks to playing in a very competitive Western Mountain 3A Conference that includes the likes of T.C. Roberson (26-1), West Henderson (23-5), Enka (17-6) and A.C. Reynolds (17-9), Tuscola is much better than reflected by the 21st seed in the western bracket of the 3A state tournament. The Pioneers had an inkling of that on Saturday when Tuscola surprised #12 seed Jay M. Robinson (Concord), which finished second to Cox Mill in the South Piedmont 3A Conference during the regular season. Cox Mill was awarded the #4 seed in the western bracket, Watauga #5.
“When it comes to the state tournament,” Watauga sophomore outside hitter Brooke Byrd explained to Blowing Rock News after Tuesday’s match, “you just have to throw the records and the seedings out the window, really. Anybody can win. The fact that Tuscola finished way down at fifth in a strong Western Mountain Conference is deceptive. They are good.”
In fact, Tuscola played outstanding defense vs. Watauga’s highly touted offensive threats in Byrd and fellow sophomore Rebekah Farthing as outside hitters and senior Emma Clark at middle blocker.
Asked what her squad knew about Watauga coming into the match when Blowing Rock News spoke with Tuscola head coach Pam Bryant afterwards, the 2nd year head coach of the Mountaineers said, “We had heard about the two sophomore outside hitters and the senior middle blocker, so yesterday we worked on defense.”
Led by senior libero Hannah Litty, the Mountaineers did a lot of digging in countering the thunderous kill shots of Byrd on the outside and Clark in the middle, but ultimately the dig-and-scramble response took Tuscola out of system and they struggled to consistently provide their own outside hitters with good attack opportunities. And for most of the times they did, the Pioneer defenders were in position to put the ball in play.
We heard about Watauga’s hitters, so yesterday we worked on defense.
While Farthing arguably had the best all-around game for the Pioneers (16 kills, 2 service aces, 22 digs and 2 blocks), Byrd was the offensive leader with 19 kills and 1 ace while adding 10 digs and 4 blocks, defensively. Clark energized both her team and the crowd with 9 kills and 10 blocks, most of the kills coming at key turning points with vicious slams untouched into the hardwood court on the other side.
Grace Hagaman (16 digs) and Chloe Baldwin (2 aces, 20 digs) also were instrumental in getting the service reception in play to designated setter Grace Hayes, who deftly turned even at times awkward second hits into attacking opportunities for Byrd, Farthing, and Clark. Along with her 38 assists, Hayes added 2 kills, 9 digs and 4 blocks.
Tuscola is a team on the rise under Bryant’s mentorship. The Mountaineers’ record for the three years before her arrival, 2013-2015, was 1-53. In her first year (2016), Tuscola was 13-8 and in 2017 finished 14-11.
“Our girls have come a long way,” Bryant smiled in recalling the turnaround. “They have worked really hard.”
Should Watauga face Alexander Central on Thursday, it will be a match-up of familiar foes. The Cougars finished third in the Northwestern Conference, behind first place Watauga (22-2) and runner-up Hickory (15-10) . Watauga swept the Cougars while going undefeated in league play during the regular season.
In winning the South Piedmont 3A Conference, Cox Mill (25-7) was similarly undefeated in league play while going 25-7 overall. Twenty-three of their 25 wins were in straight sets.
PLAYOFF SCORES FROM TUESDAY
- WESTERN 3A BRACKET
- #1 North Iredell 3-1 vs. #16 West Rowan
- #8 West Henderson 3-0 vs. #9 Charlotte Catholic
- #5 Watauga 3-1 vs. #21 Tuscola
- #3 T.C. Roberson 3-0 vs. #19 Cuthbertson
- #27 Statesville 3-1 @ Southwest Guilford
- #10 Jesse Carson 3-0 vs. North Buncombe
- #2 Marvin Ridge 3-0 vs. Hickory
- EASTERN 3A BRACKET
- #1 D H Conley 3-0 vs. #16 Triton
- #9 Union Pines 3-1 vs. # 25 C B Aycock
- #5 Chapel Hill 3-0 vs. #21 Northern Guilford
- #4 West Carteret 3-0 vs. #13 Western Alamance
- #3 Cleveland 3-1 vs. #14 Northwood
- #11 J H Rose 3-1 @ #6 New Hanover
- #10 Cape Fear 3-2 vs. #26 Southeast Guilford
- #2 Person 3-0 vs. #15 Southern Alamance
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News