09/24/04 — Rebounding Rebels

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Rebounding Rebels

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on September 24, 2004 1:56 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- For North Duplin's volleyball team, something just clicked.

After suffering from inconsistent play and numerous service errors in the first three sets at Spring Creek, the Rebels bounced back with two straight fluid wins to claim a nail-biting 28-30, 26-24, 23-25, 25-9, 15-12 victory over the Gators.

North Duplin coach Heather Best was clearly pleased with how her team finished the road struggle.

"They just started coming together and playing like the team they can be," Best said. "I don't know why they waited until the last couple of sets to that. I think it was the confidence, but I am really proud of them."

The win improved North Duplin (4-7 overall) to 2-5 in the Class 1-A Carolina Conference.

The Gators (1-6 Carolina), who tallied their only conference win at North Duplin earlier this season, took a 2-1 lead after three sets when Mallory Albertson's overhead pass found a hole in the Rebel defense, sealing a tightly contested 25-23 win.

Paced by stout play at the net and at the service line by Bethany Malcolm, North Duplin surged to a lead of 7-3 in game four, then 15-6 after consecutive aces by Julie Ivey. Malcolm, who finished with 10 kills and four aces, went on to provide three aces late in the set as the Rebels eventually evened the match at 2-2 with a 25-9 win.

"When Bethany is on her game, you can't stop her," Best said. "She can put the ball anywhere she wants to. She found it, she took it and that's all I can ask of her. The girls really rallied around her."

The fifth and decisive game saw North Duplin jump ahead 10-5 after a kill by Sierra Ward, who finished with a team-high 11 kills. But, Spring Creek didn't go away quietly.

Gator freshman middle hitter Brittani Billups posted three straight kills to pull her team to within 13-11 with Lorenda Brogden at the service line. Spring Creek got one point closer on Courtney Oxendine's tip before North Duplin claimed the next two points to put the game and match away.

"We played hard, they played hard," Spring Creek coach Deanna Morris said. "They've improved a lot since the last time we played them."

The first three games proved to be back-and-forth contests with neither team taking the momentum and running away. Only one server in the first three games served more than four consecutive times as each team traded points and combined for 22 ties.

Billups paced the Gators at the net, while Ward continued to keep pressure on the Spring Creek defense as the two consistently traded kills. In game one, Ward put her team ahead 28-27, before the Rebels were whistled for a net violation -- evening the score again. Spring Creek's Tomeka Pride served out the final two points to help her team take a 1-0 lead.

"We had a new setter tonight, Margo Sauter, and she stepped up to the plate," Morris said. "It's like a roller coaster, up and down, it's all about who wants it in the end."

The Gators looked poised to take the second game early on, thanks to their own consistent play and a handful of unforced errors by the Rebels. Spring Creek's 10-5 advantage in the second was quickly erased, but it regained control when Brogden posted three aces in a row to push the Gators back up 19-14. Eventually, North Duplin bounced back and claimed game two 26-24.

"We always seem to be in close games," Best said. "This team has so much potential, especially beating North Johnston, then we turn around and play like we've never played before.

"When they are on, they are on. I just wish they would be on all the time."

The Gators return to action at Princeton on Tuesday, while the Rebels travel to North Johnston.