10/26/05 — Eagle spikers collect first-ever postseason win

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Eagle spikers collect first-ever postseason win

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on October 26, 2005 2:21 PM

When the Rosewood and East Carteret volleyball teams, both No. 1 seeds, learned of their first-round matchup in the Class 1-A N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, neither were particularly pleased.

No other top seeds were paired up head-to-head in the first round in the 1-A bracket.

On Tuesday at the Eagles gymnasium, Rosewood and the visiting Mariners staged a classic battle that was certainly more suited and had the intensity of a deeper playoff round.

After falling in the fourth set as East Carteret tied the match at 2-2 with a 25-14 win, Rosewood bounced back in impressive fashion to take the final set 15-9 in front of a loud home crowd.

The contest proved to be a see-saw battle throughout as the Eagles won the five-set thriller, 25-17, 19-25, 25-23, 14-25, 15-9. It was the first time Rosewood, now undefeated in 23 outings, had been taken to five sets all season.

"It was just another obstacle we had to overcome," Rosewood coach Jennifer Cochran said.

It was also the Eagles first-ever volleyball playoff win as the Carolina Conference's regular season and tournament champions move on to face the winner of East Bladen (10-10) and Wallace-Rose Hill (10-12) on Thursday at home. The Mariners, the Coastal Plains Conference champs, finished the season at 15-3.

Despite never facing the adversity of a five-set contest, Rosewood seemed comfortable and loose heading into the final set against an East Carteret team that featured a strong middle hitter in Kerra Gore.

Cochran did her part to loosen up her squad -- leading the team in a brief version of the "Hokey Pokey" before the fifth set.

"We did the same thing at Princeton to kind of calm down. We were just struggling emotionally at the time," Cochran said.

Her Eagles took it from there.

Rosewood took its first lead of the fifth set at 3-2 on a kill by Courtney Hill and never trailed again. Kasie Braswell and Abigail Barrow had solid service runs in game five as the Eagles built a lead of 9-4 with Gore out of the match due to the Mariners' rotation.

Gore returned with her team down 11-9, then hit a kill attempt into the net to make it 12-9. Rosewood's Kelli Gurley, who had several big digs through the match, served out the final three points with teammate and fellow senior Stephanie Rhodes putting the finishing touch on the dramatic win with a tip off of a set from Barrow.

"We never gave up. That's what so good about this team. We play together," Rhodes said. "I was just hoping and praying when I hit it that it would go down. When it hit off of her hand and hit the floor, it felt really good."

Rosewood took the momentum for good in the first set when Rhodes served up the Eagles' sixth ace of the first set to make it 20-13. The Eagles were able to hold off Gore and the Mariners the rest of the way as Braswell closed out the first set at 25-17 with a kill from the right side.

Sizeable leads and long service runs were scare in the second and third sets.

East Carteret cut down on its serve-receive errors and seemed to diversify its attack away from Gore to Amanda Willis and Courtney Willis. A kill by Courtney Willis, followed by an ace by Michaela Nelson helped Marines take the second set 25-19.

Rosewood's largest lead of the third set came at 7-2 when a kill attempt by Gore went in the net with Braswell serving. From there, East Carteret cut into the deficit during the match's most closely contest set. Courtney Willis forced the first-of-seven ties in the third at 12-12 as neither team led by more than three the rest of the way.

With the set tied at 22-22, Barrow served on two points to give her team a two-point lead, before a net violation pulled the Mariners back within one at 24-23. Hill eventually put the third set away with another kill as Rosewood took a 2-1 lead.

The fourth set was all East Carteret's.

With Courtney Willis serving, the Mariners built a lead of 9-1 as Gore consistently hit and blocked up front. By the end of the set, Gore had registered seven kills and one block as her team steadily pulled away to a 25-14 win to even the match at 2-2.

"They just capitalized on everything we did wrong and everything was falling in the holes for them," Cochran said. "They (East Carteret) are an awesome team."

The Eagles had a handful of service and unforced errors during the fourth that hindered any chance of a comeback. Still, Rosewood managed to win two of the final three points to regain some confidence going into the fifth and decisive set.

Following the match, Cochran admitted this was her team's best win of the season due to the quality of the opposition and the fact her team proved it could win a five-set match.

Still, there is no sense of contentment from a team that has already made plenty of school history during their 2005 run.

"They have their eyes set on a big goal, and that's a few weekends away," Cochran said about her teams state-championship goal. "We want to be there, and I think tonight was a big step for us. I think they'll come out tomorrow ready to practice again. I think tonight was a big eye-opener for us as well."