Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
The Hunt High varsity volleyball team reigns as queen of the 3-A Big East Conference after dethroning Franklinton in a five-set thriller in the Hunt High gym on Wednesday evening.
Buoyed by a rousing first-set comeback win, the Lady Warriors seized the conference tournament championship and the conference’s top seed in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs with a 25-23, 15-20, 22-11, 21-25, 15-10 outcome after the teams shared the regular-season title.
Franklinton, in its third year in the conference, garnered regular-season and tournament titles in the 2017 and 2018 and had won 32 consecutive matches against Big East rivals until being stopped by Hunt in the next-to-last conference regular-season match for each squad.
The Lady Warriors of head coach Tiffany Rowe will be home for the opening round of the playoffs on Saturday. The ninth consecutive win propelled Hunt to 16-6, while Franklinton, the Big East’s No. 2, stumbled to 19-4.
Hunt achieved its early-season goal with the eight-player rotation of seniors Meghan Martinez, Greysen Evans, Alea Jones, Brianna Moore, Stephanie Olivera, junior libero Kinslee Braddy, junior Taylor Collins and dynamite 5-foot-9 freshman Alex Williams, who recorded 19 kills and seven blocks.
The Lady Warriors withstood a performance of a staggering 22 blocks and 14 kills from 5-11 senior Rebekah Smith.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said the elated Rowe. “But we knew we had a balanced attack and, if we played well, we could win.
“This was a different match-up from last time (a four-set win at home). We worked slowly, kept working hard and kept coming back. We kept responding; it was different kind of game. We continued to attack.”
Added Braddy, who drew effusive praise from Lady Red Rams head coach Tom Harris: “This feels really good. It makes me feel like all the hard work we’ve put in is beginning to show. It feels great to finally be conference champs. I played my heart out.”
Of Braddy, Harris remarked: “She was dominant; she was phenomenal. She got to balls that we thought we had won and kept them in that fifth set with her digging.
“They outplayed us. We had our moments. Our passing was better, but we still had too many free balls. After that fourth set, I thought we could win. A couple of balls fell for them that didn’t fall for us.
“You can play to win and you can play not to lose. I told our girls we were going to play to win and that I felt like (Hunt) would also. Both teams played to win. The credit goes to them.”
The fifth — and final — set became necessary when Franklinton weathered a stirring Hunt comeback. The Lady Warriors rallied from a 13-5 deficit to pull even (17-17) on a Williams kill. But junior Sarah Dodrill answered with a kill and sophomore McKenzie Hill’s serve sealed Franklinton’s 25-21 win.
Hunt jumped to a 4-2 edge in the final set and clung to an 8-7 margin when Smith rotated out. The Lady Rams trailed 11-10 when Hunt smelled the championship with a tip and kill from Jones, a winner from Williams, a kill from Williams and a match-ending kill from Martinez.
The Lady Warriors trailed 11-4 in the opening set before scrambling to a 20-20 tie. After ties of 21-21, 22-22 and 23-23, Evans’ hit and a Franklinton attack error left Hunt a 25-23 victor.
Franklinton capitalized on Hunt mistakes in the second set and a kill from freshman De’Nyla Harlan evened the sets at 1-1.
In the third set, Hunt climbed from a 2-1 hole to lead 6-2, 10-5, 12-6 and 17-7 before Evans’ ace produced a 22-11 cushion. Franklinton’s rare service error ended the set.
“That first set was extremely, extremely big,” Rowe assured. “To get that first one gives you confidence that you sometimes need. Our seniors out there were determined.”
And as Hunt assistant coach Matt Lemmoms clamored: “How fun was that!”