Watauga falters in quarterfinals, 0-3

Watauga falters in quarterfinals, 0-3
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By David Rogers. October 30, 2018. WAXHAW, NC — Watauga’s 2018 edition of varsity volleyball had a bad night — and it happened against an opponent against which the Pioneers could afford no errors. The #1-seeded Marvin Ridge Mavericks (Waxhaw, NC) advanced to the semifinals of the North Carolina state championship tournament, defeating Watauga, 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-15).

Although the Pioneers did pick-up the first point of the match, it turned out to be only a consolation prize. Mishits on serves did in Watauga early in the first set, giving up seven of the first 10 Maverick points by hitting the ball long or directly into the net. Watauga compounded the challenges of service errors with attack errors when they did get to return a volley — not to mention the Marvin Ridge frontline blocks.

Watauga rallied to make the first set loss a respectable 20-25 and looked to be getting over the quarterfinal jitters of facing the tournament’s #1 seed and North Carolina’s top-ranked team. But the Marvin Ridge attackers’ grew as the game progressed, particularly behind vicious kill shots by senior outside hitter Lexi Thomas (9 kills), sophomore middle hitter Mac Russ (10 kills), and senior middle hitter Olivia Headrick (7 kills).  Thomas and Russ, particularly played much taller than their already statuesque 5-9 and 5-11 heights, respectively.

One of the more impressive skills displayed by the Mavericks was the ability of senior setter Adriana Jordan to position the ball for her attacking teammates for the kill — even when she was fielding the ball off-balance or moving right, left, forward or back, sometimes in desperation because of the rare good placement by Watauga.

In many respects, Marvin Ridge did to Watauga what the Pioneers have done to so many of their opponents this previously undefeated season: keep the opponent scurrying, off-balance and often desperate just to get the ball over the net on the third hit. Just as Watauga was relentless in its attack against McMichael in the third round, Marvin Ridge was relentless in attacking the Pioneers’ side of the net, often with precision and power.

“We Belong.

For its part, Watauga at times demonstrated the skill to say, “We belong here,” but too often when finding their rhythm it just as quickly fell out of synch.

Age and experience matter in just about every sport. When you consider that the 2018 Marvin Ridge team features 10 seniors of the 16 players on the roster, compared to a Watauga side comprised of just two seniors, seven juniors, four sophomores and a freshman making up its 14-player roster, the Pioneers have a lot to be proud of to have gotten to the quarterfinals past other opponents with more seasoned volleyballers.

“Marvin Ridge is an outstanding team,” Watauga head coach Kris Hagaman acknowledged to reporters afterward. “We gave up a lot of points, especially in the center. And when you can’t string serves together, then you don’t have opportunities to score…You have to take advantage of any opportunity that you have and try to keep them out of (their) system…They are a good team and they were bigger than us.

“We had a really good season,” Hagaman said in closing her post-match remarks. “One match where you struggle in a whole season (is a pretty good season). Unfortunately, this wasn’t the right match to struggle…This season the girls played hard every point that they had. They showed determination and courage and they supported each other whether we were winning or losing.”

The Pioneers’ junior co-captain Rebekah Farthing (9 kills, 6 digs, 2 blocks and 24 serves received) left the match disappointed in the loss, but still smiling when reflecting back on the accomplishments of the season.

“I am so proud of this team and my teammates,” Farthing shared afterward with Blowing Rock News. “I think tonight was about a lot of nerves. We were super excited (to be here). We knew that (Marvin Ridge) was really good and had really good middle hitters. When those middles got the ball, they were pretty much unstoppable…I think nerves got to us a lot, especially with this atmosphere.”

The “atmosphere” to which Farthing referred was, for a visiting team playing for the first time at Marvin Ridge, pretty harsh.  Ultimately, it didn’t determine the outcome of the match, but when a public address announcer doesn’t stop talking as a player of the visiting team is serving and guys dressed up in wild, cartoonish costumes use a megaphone to make noises during play — whether or not it is considered unsportsmanlike or even against North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules — that kind of “atmosphere” can be upsetting to a team not used to playing in a circus environment, at any level. To their credit, the match officials at least addressed the public address announcer’s intrusion after the second or third time it occurred, early in the match.

Watauga’s junior middle hitter Tegan Allan shared Farthing’s observations about nerves being a major factor.

“On the bus ride down,” Allan recalled for Blowing Rock News, “we were getting really excited. We wanted to come out strong, but we just made a lot of mistakes early on. That really hurt us. We can’t make those kinds of mistakes against these big teams.

“This season was so unreal,” added Allan. “I am so thankful for this season. It is definitely my favorite season of playing volleyball so far. Our team was so special this year. It was awesome. We are all so close. It was unreal. I could not have asked for a better season.”

The Pioneers finished the 2018 campaign 14-0 in Northwestern Conference play, 25-1 overall. Now some of the players, including Farthing and Byrd (10 kills, 4 digs, 22 serves received) will take just a couple of days off before going full throttle into basketball season.

SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

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