10/01/04 — Hawks sweep Blue Devils

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Hawks sweep Blue Devils

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 1, 2004 1:56 PM

LAGRANGE -- A near standing-room-only crowd at Wooten Gymnasium appeared shocked after the opening set in Thursday afternoon's battle between county archrivals North Lenoir and South Lenoir.

The Hawks ran their offense with precision and raced to a 13-1 lead. The strong play forced the Blue Devils into a defensive mode, and almost silenced their fans who made the journey from Deep Run.

South Lenoir refused to quit and played solid the next two sets, but couldn't match North Lenoir's net play. Three Hawks recorded double digits in kills as they prevailed 25-10, 25-19, 25-21 in the Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference matchup.

North Lenoir (16-1, 6-0 EPC) beat South Lenoir for the 10th time in their last 11 meetings and extended their EPC regular-season win streak to 36 matches.

"Sometimes we come out and we're aggressive, or we're not," Hawks coach Heather Humphrey. "I knew, especially with this county rivalry, that we needed to be aggressive. We hit the ball hard and were finding the spots."

Senior setter Chanee Lynch moved the ball with ease and effectively used hitters Brittany Sanders, Randi Moulton, Rachel Cromer, Shannon Plymouth and Leslie Oliver. The quartet combined for 13 kills, with Cromer hitting a perfect 1.000 -- five kills in five attempts.

The Blue Devils (14-4, 4-2) couldn't find an answer to match the Hawks' offensive intensity. They relied on their defense to keep North Lenoir from holding them to single digits and wisely used the three-minute break after the first set to change their strategy.

South Lenoir adjusted its blocking scheme and pinched its defense to deny the middle hit. The scheme worked well as Katie Moore, Ashley Heath, Molly Pollock and Crystal Hardison kept balls from hitting the floor.

"I told them that we've got to have the offense," veteran South Lenoir coach Lisa Smith said. "The thing is, when they're hitting at the angles, you're fighting to get the ball up. Yeah, we want the ball to target (the setter), but the first priority is to dig the ball up.

"We've become more scrappier."

The teams dueled through 12 ties and 12 lead changes before North Lenoir finally took control at the net. Oliver tied it at 14-14 with an off-speed hit that deflected off a Blue Devil defender and clipped the line. Plymouth pounded a kill off a short return and Oliver blocked Kari Ham to make it 16-14.

A ball-handling error and another Plymouth kill boosted the Hawks' advantage to 18-14. The Blue Devils' Sierra Ham, who notched five blocks, stopped the run by blocking Cromer's kill attempt from the right side.

Plymouth's kill off Lynch's assist -- one of 34 for the match -- ignited another quick run. Oliver also provided another off-speed hit that gave North Lenoir some breathing room at 21-16.

South Lenoir pulled within 21-19, but could get no closer. Moulton's tip finished off a 20-volley rally at 23-19 and she added kill off Lynch's assist to make it 24-20. The Blue Devils committed a hitting error to end the second set.

"I knew the second game wouldn't be like that (the first)," Humphrey said. "I knew our girls had to keep up their intensity, but I knew South Lenoir would pick up theirs.

"They made adjustments, fixed their spots (defensively) but my girls just kept coming and coming."

Ham's back-to-back blocks helped the Blue Devils seize an early 7-4 lead in the third set. However, Oliver and Sanders led a 5-0 run to push the Hawks back in front 9-7.

Ham's off-speed hit closed the gap to 9-8 before Moulton got untracked at the net and spearheaded a 5-2 run. The senior middle hitter smashed one kill off Corn's block attempt and added another kill that Plymouth (eight digs) kept alive defensively.

The Blue Devils scrambled and stayed within striking distance until the Hawks pulled away in the late stages.

"I couldn't be more proud of how they played that second and third game," Smith said. "They gave them a run for their money. They played their hearts out ... gave everything they had on the court. I couldn't ask for anything else.

"We're going to get them one of these times."

Plymouth and Oliver led North Lenoir with 11 kills apiece, and combined for 15 digs and five blocks. Moulton registered a double-double with 10 kills and 16 digs. Overall, the Hawks recorded 46 kills and 50 digs as a team.

Kari Ham (15 digs) and Sierra Ham combined for 11 kills for the Blue Devils.