09/15/04 — Prep volleyball -- Home court helps as Panthers take Rosewood

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Prep volleyball -- Home court helps as Panthers take Rosewood

By David Williams
Published in Sports on September 15, 2004 1:56 PM

KENLY -- Gymnasiums are all pretty much alike -- big space, walls, a roof, basketball goals, bleachers.

Seen one, seen them all.

But at North Johnston High School, the gym is becoming a place that visiting volleyball teams come to take a loss.

The Panthers doled out another defeat on Tuesday, this time to visiting Carolina 1-A Conference foe Rosewood. North Johnston took an important four-game match from the Eagles, winning 25-16, 25-20, 9-25 and 25-22 to even its league mark at 2-2 and boost its overall record to 7-3.

Rosewood exited 2-2 in league play and 9-3 overall.

North Johnston used a patented tactic to get the victory -- get the lead early at home. The Panthers took the first two games in the match, struggled as Rosewood rallied to win game three, then outlasted the Eagles in a scrappy fourth game to take the win.

"That's one of the things we've struggled with all year, coming back," said North Johnston coach Nicole Davis. "We did a better job of that in the last two games against Princeton, and today against Rosewood."

Most of Davis' game plan involved countering Rosewood's six-foot-two inch Jessica Hill, a powerful hitter that Davis described as "the best we've seen all year." The Panthers passed around Hill and used senior Kelly Smith to block and counter Hill at the net, while the back line players did a superb job digging out the Eagles' kills.

"With her being the best one we've seen all year, we kind of stood back and I was a little nervous about that," Davis said. "But the girls adjusted better and didn't miss a beat."

Davis highlighted the effort of freshman Michelle Murray, who came off the bench late and "didn't miss a beat."

After North Johnston took a quick 1-0 lead, Robyn Creech stepped to the service line and dished up 13 straight service points with a pair of aces mixed in the run. Smith was strong at the net in the run as Rosewood fell behind 13-1. Kelli Gurley had a strong service run and Hill strung together good kills at the net to close the gap, but North Johnston stayed poised and took the second game.

Rosewood's offense got untracked in the third game as the Eagles kept a three-to-four point lead. Hannah Aycock went to the service line and served up a pair of aces as the Eagles jumped out to an 18-8 lead. Hill closed the door with solid serving and good net play by Stephanie Rhodes as the Eagles convincingly won.

Rosewood closed a pair of gaps in the fourth game, coming back from 7-1 and 15-10 deficits to tie the game up. Candice Renfrow had another solid service run to give North Johnston the early advantage, but Hill again countered from the line with another pair of aces. Rhodes and Gurley closed the gap a second time, tying the match at 16-16.

But the Eagles could never get past a tie.

Creech and Renfrow used solid serving to confound the Eagle defense as the Panthers cruised to the game-clinching win.

"I was pleased with the last two games that we played," said Rosewood coach Jennifer Cochran. "The first two games I wasn't real pleased with. But we came back and we didn't die. Good things are going to happen for us. We'll be back."

Hill could have been even better, but Cochran said her team did not pass enough early to give her the opportunity to hit at the net.

"The last two games we really passed and she was able to hit the ball a little bit," she said. "But if we can't get our serves in and we can't get the other people to pass her the ball, then she can't attack the ball."

Hill ended the game with 18 kills, eight blocks, four aces and a pair of digs. Clare Narron had 10 assists and three digs for Rosewood, while Aycock had five assists, three digs and a pair of aces.

Cochran said the Eagles would even the score when the Panthers come to the Rosewood gym.

"The line in this gym seems shorter than in our gym," she said. "That has a lot to do with it. But we just didn't focus on our serves a lot, and then we played safe at the end.

"We'll beat them at our place. They won't be a problem."

Rosewood's Morgan Wheeler was unable to play after sustaining a sprained ankle in practice. Wheeler will be available again next week.

North Johnston travels to Ayden-Grifton on Thursday, while Rosewood hosts North Duplin.