09/03/04 — Rebel rowsing -- N. Duplin spikers pull upset

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Rebel rowsing -- N. Duplin spikers pull upset

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 3, 2004 2:00 PM

CALYPSO -- A disappointing loss against archrival Spring Creek left the North Duplin volleyball team questioning its self belief Tuesday afternoon. And with a matchup against traditional power North Johnston just two days away, the Rebels wondered if they'd answer those inner doubts and forget that letdown.

Moments before Thursday's match against the once-beaten Panthers, third-year Rebels coach Heather Best challenged her young team to respond to that Spring Creek loss. She knew they needed to play well -- for confidence sake.

Best got quite a surprise.

North Duplin and North Johnston volleyball

Bobby Williams

North Duplin's Sierra Ward bumps the ball back over the net as teammates Brittany Carr (8) and Emily Deibert (4) look on.

Middle hitters Bethany Malcolm and Sierra Ward combined for 15 kills as North Duplin upset North Johnston 25-21, 25-22, 17-25, 25-14 in Class 1-A Carolina Conference play. The Rebels captured their third victory and equaled last season's entire win total.

It was the Panthers' league opener.

"I told them before the game that a winning team is going to rebound (from a tough loss)," Best said. "If they can't get their confidence up, they're going to have a hard time the rest of the season. They came out strong today, never quit and didn't back down."

Best spent most of Wednesday's practice on defense -- blocking, digging and floor coverage. The hungry and youth-laden Rebels reacted well to Best's drills and carried it over into the four-set thriller against the Panthers.

North Duplin (3-2, 1-1 CC) let very few balls drop and contained North Johnston's middle-hit attack. Ward, Malcolm, Julie Ivey, Jamie Vinson and Megan Sinclair scrapped for every loose ball defensively and kept points alive when the Panthers appeared to put them away.

North Johnston (5-1, 0-1) failed to adjust to the Rebels' defense. They continued hitting to the middle, but didn't take advantage of open areas -- down the line and cross court.

"One of our problems is we're getting hits, but they're not kills," veteran Panthers coach Nicole Davis said. "We can't stay in a game and hit the way we do. We're going to have to make plays to stop the momentum. We didn't do any of that.

"North Duplin did an excellent job and wanted it worse than we did today."

Each team attempted to establish the middle-hit attack in the opening set. North Johnston had five kills, while Malcolm collected four including two off block attempts by Panther senior Kelley Smith.

Serving and uncharacteristic errors by Davis' team proved the difference in the opening game. North Duplin sophomore Emily Deibert served four aces, including three straight, to turn a 17-16 advantage into a 20-16 lead.

Ward added a pair of aces and two critical communication errors allowed the Rebels to claim the set.

The Panthers' frustration continued in the second set. Their ball-handling errors in the serve-receive game and confusing movement offensively limited their ability to build a significant lead. The feisty Rebels trailed 22-21, but fed off the mistakes and finished off the set with a 4-0 run.

A partisan North Duplin crowd roared its approval in the sweltering gymnasium as the teams changed courts for the third game. Rebel players exchanged high fives, while the dazed Panthers wiped their faces with towels.

"That gave us confidence," Malcolm said. "We were pumped up and kept the motivation going."

The Rebels bolted ahead 6-1 in the third game, but watched the Panthers tie it at 10-10. After a few ties, middle hitter Hannah Ellis took control at the net with three kills and one solo block to help close out the set. North Duplin's youth and uncertainty surfaced in the set, but Malcolm and her teammates refused to fold.

Ward jump-started the Rebels in the final set with back-to-back kills, which tied the game at 9-9 and ignited an 11-2 run. Deibert's ace continued the offensive surge. Ward and Casey Pate combined to block an off-speed hit from Smith that drew cheers from Best on the sideline.

Ward served three aces and Brittany Carr finished off the run with an off-speed hit to make it 18-11. The Panthers attempted two quick rallies, but Tiffany Whaley's kill -- off Deibert's assist -- made it 23-13.

Up 24-14, Ward knelt and tapped the floor in anticipation of completing the upset. Deibert quietly pumped her fist by her side, and grinned at the crowd. The teams traded free balls before a ball-handling error, the Panthers' 17th of the match, ended three years of frustration for Malcolm.

"This was so wonderful," said Malcolm, who had never beaten the Panthers in her career. "We didn't play together as a team against Spring Creek, but we made up for each other's mistakes (today). We're not looking to play as individuals, but more as a team.

"Yes, we've got some shining stars, but everybody knows that this year it's not one, but all -- a team."