By David Rogers. October 27, 2018. BOONE, NC — Anyone not finding high school volleyball an exciting spectator sport wasn’t in Lentz-Eggers Gym on Saturday. A packed grandstand on both sides were entertained in a thrill-a-minute third round of the North Carolina state tournament which saw Watauga rise to the occasion and defeat visiting McMichael, 3-0 (25-13, 25-14, 25-20)
COVER IMAGE: Carolyn Murray (9) rips the ball across the net at McMichael defenders. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
It was not as easy as the score might suggest. Ultimately, the Pioneers had too much firepower in junior outside hitters Brooke Byrd and Rebecca Farthing, with an added offensive threat in the form of junior middle hitter Tegan Allan — whom Farthing very affectionally described later to Blowing Rock News as a “beast.”
Watauga volleyball fans are familiar with the Pioneer mainstays, Byrd and Farthing, and opponents who scout the team are likely keyed on stopping that dynamic duo. Neither disappointed against McMichael as they registered 13 and 16 kills, respectively.
Allan’s elevation, however, above the net and her power in spiking the ball on such a severely downward trajectory — all but unplayable — has proven particularly impactful in the playoffs. After connecting on 12 of 13 kill shots in last Tuesday’s first round vs. Stuart Cramer, Allan recorded six kills on Thursday against Sun Valley and yet another half-dozen on Saturday vs. McMichael. Unlike Farthing and Byrd, who never leave the court, Allan splits time with other teammates. One of those other part-time Pioneers is Carolyn Murray, who contributed five kills on the night.
However dynamic and powerful Watauga’s offensive attack was in this match, the number of kills does not tell the whole story. If you look at the number of kill attempts by Byrd, Farthing, Allan and Murray, you notice that it required a lot of kill attempts to register those kill points. That’s because, as Farthing pointed out to Blowing Rock News after the match, the McMichael athletes were “…digging out just about everything we hit at them, keeping the ball in play.” In a word, Watauga was relentless in its offensive attack.
Even if a kill attempt did not score a point, however, it was often effective in keeping McMichael players off-balance in trying to muster an offensive attack of their own. If the “dig” to keep the ball in play careened off to the side or awkwardly back, the Phoenix volleyballers were using all three allowed hits to simply return the ball.
The match leader in kills at 16, Farthing’s kill percent was 43.2%. which means that her actual number of attempts was a whopping 37 times that she rocked the other side of the net with hits aimed at earning a point. McMichael’s defensive performance in keeping the ball in play after
Watauga kill shots was reflected in the other Pioneer attackers’ stats, too. It took Byrd 24 attempts to get those 13 kills (54%) and Allan hammered the ball across 11 times to collect 6 notches (kills) in her holster, or 60%.
Watauga, of course, was also proficient in taking care of the ball and keeping it in play. Junior libero Chloe Baldwin was credited with a team-high 15 digs, followed by Byrd (8), senior Jasmine VanDyke (7), Farthing (7) and senior Grace Hayes (6).
As the designated setter, Hayes led the team in assists with 38.
With the win, Watauga earned the right to face #1 seed Marvin Ridge of Waxhaw, NC, on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The Mavericks are ranked #1 in the state even among the larger 4A schools and #73 nationally, with a 41-2 overall record while going 14-0 in the highly competitive 3A Southern Carolina Conference. Other schools in the conference include Charlotte Catholic, Cuthberson, Sun Valley (which Watauga swept in Round 2 to advance), Weddington, Parkwood, Piedmont, and Monroe, all from Charlotte’s southern suburbs.
Marvin Ridge advanced by sweeping #8-seeded West Rowan, but that tilt was also closer than a “sweep” would indicate. The set scores were 25-23, 25-18 and 25-18.
The winners in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round will advance to the November 1st Regional Round (semifinals) where the survivors of the upper and lower brackets in the East will face the upper and lower bracket winners in the West (where Watauga and Marvin Ridge compete).
Watauga is now the sole representative of the Northwestern Conference remaining in the playoffs after #11-seeded Hickory lost to the #3 seed, Jesse Carson (China Grove, NC), 3-1 (25-18, 22-25, 25-19, 25-19).
Also advancing to the 3A quarterfinals in the lower bracket of the West was #2 seeded West Henderson, 3-1, (25-21, 25-14, 25-27, 25-22).
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News