10/20/04 — Tiger volleyball team knocks off top seed in league tourney

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Tiger volleyball team knocks off top seed in league tourney

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 20, 2004 1:57 PM

WARSAW -- A hungry pack of Tigers simply refuse to give up residence in their own den during the Class 1-A Super Six Conference tournament.

James Kenan preserved its postseason aspirations with a stunning 25-11, 27-25, 22-25, 25-23 upset of top-seeded Union in the friendly confines of Harmon Gymnas-ium on Tuesday evening. The victory vaulted the fourth-seeded Tigers into today's title tilt against second-seeded Lakewood, the reigning league champion.

Katy Morris and Stephanie Rhodes

News-Argus/Dennis Hill

Rosewood's Katy Morris sets up the ball during the Eagles' Class 1-A Carolina Conference tournament match against North Duplin Tuesday. Teammate Stephanie Rhodes backs up Morris on the play.

The winner earns the conference's No. 2 berth for next week's N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. The loser is eliminated from postseason contention.

Despite the four-set loss, Union retains the No. 1 seed.

"We're still conference champions," Union coach Dana Strickland told her team in the post-match huddle.

But the Spartans hardly resembled the team that had beaten every conference opponent 3-0 in the second half of the season. Strickland attributed part of the lack-luster effort due to day-long journey at the N.C. State Fair. The players expended energy on rides, showing animals in live-stock exhibits and munching on junk food.

"I wasn't happy about it and had a bad feeling about it from the beginning," Strickland said. "I don't know if the girls were tired, but it wasn't them playing.

"I really don't know where they were."

James Kenan (11-9) capitalized on numerous Union errors throughout the first two sets. The Spartans lacked communication, failed to receive consistent passes from the backline and struggled with their middle-hit attack.

The Tigers received 25 points on errors in the first two sets combined. Assistant coach Christy Newsome shouted "keep moving, keep moving" throughout the first two sets. The command had a two-fold purpose since Kenan's players tend to get flat-footed defensively, and the Spartans scrapped for every loose ball despite their sporadic offensive play.

Union (13-6) switched its strategy in the third set and began using the off-speed hit. Strickland said her team played hit-and-miss in the tipping scheme, but it was effective enough to force a fourth set.

Newsome made the defensive adjustment after the third set.

"I realized they were not hitting the ball and kept dinking," Newsome said. "I told them they had to keep moving. If they did not keep moving, they were going to eat them up close to the net."

James Kenan recorded more than half of its 22 digs defensively inside the three-foot line in the final set. The Tigers pinched the middle well, but Newsome kept Caroline Moore and Hannah Adams in the corners to cover the cross-court angles.

The plan worked well as the Tigers rallied from a three-point deficit to claim a four-point lead at 15-11. Crystal Evans and Alisha Taber had key digs near the net to keep points alive and eventually force the Spartans into a mistake.

Union pulled within 15-14 on consecutive kills from middle hitter Lesley Bass. Bass' ace and off-speed hit helped ignite a 6-0 run as the visitors forged ahead 20-17.

"There were spots that were wide open and they were working towards it," Strickland said. "Sometimes they would get them and sometimes they wouldn't. It just seemed like everything was falling their way and nothing was falling our way."

After a timeout, the Tigers picked up a key sideout. Taber dug out a kill attempt by Bass and the Spartans' Beth Hope followed with an off-speed hit into the net. James Kenan tied the set at 23-23 and moved ahead 24-23 on a Union passing error.

Adams served an ace to close out the set and match.

The Tigers' bench emptied and the Spartans watched the celebration in silence.

"Everybody at the start of the season said they were not as strong as they were last year," Newsome said. "They're not as talented, but I think they have more heart than last year.

"(Plus) this is their house and they don't want anyone to come in here and take it from them."