11/02/05 — Wild-card entry Trask sweeps Rosewood, ends Eagles' title dreams

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Wild-card entry Trask sweeps Rosewood, ends Eagles' title dreams

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 2, 2005 2:02 PM

Playoff organizers at the N.C. High School Athletic Association have heard numerous concerns about the wild-card system instituted this season.

Heide Trask isn't complaining.

Had the NCHSAA not created the wild-card system this season, particularly to benefit split conferences, Trask's volleyball team probably would have remained at home after finishing second in the Class 1-A Waccamaw Conference. Instead, the Titans received one of two wild-card entries available in the eastern bracket and are experiencing a season to remember.

Senior middle hitter Brittny Johnson provided a match-high 22 kills and eight blocks as Trask swept Rosewood 25-14, 25-10, 25-23 to claim the eastern regional title match Tuesday evening. The Titans (21-2) oppose either Alleghany or Hendersonville at high noon for the state championship Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.

Rosewood concluded its historic season 25-1.

"Give credit to number three (Johnson)," said Eagles coach Jennifer Cochran. "She played really well on the front row and we fed the ball well to her. She had no choice but to slam it down.

"We sent the ball to the middle a lot and didn't hit the corners with our serves. Our serving wasn't on today."

Unlike Saturday's match against heavyweight Pender and 6-foot-2 outside hitter Brittny Roper, the Eagles just couldn't take Johnson out of the offense. Solid backline passing allowed senior Latonya Nixon to set up Johnson, who hit point-scoring shots to the middle and short outside corners.

Nixon dished out 37 assists.

"(Johnson) has just gotten better and better as the season has gone on," said Trask coach Karen Byrd. "As a team, we've just really peaked come playoff season. Our conference is tough and in the playoffs, we've played some really hard teams.

"That's helped prepare us."

Trask's regular-season losses occurred against Pender. The Titans captured playoff wins at Perquimans, Williamston and Camden County before taking their shortest trip up I-40 on Tuesday.

Fatigue never surfaced against the Eagles. Trask converted 21 of 32 sideout attempts and capitalized on 22 unforced errors.

"That was very big," said Byrd.

The Titans built early leads in the first games and never lost momentum.

Rosewood had periods of good play, but couldn't defend Johnson, who constantly found the open spots. The 6-footer also blocked well at the net and forced the Eagles to hit free balls, which kept Trask in a rhythm offensively.

"We just didn't do what we needed to do to win the game which was hit the holes," said Cochran. "This was probably our worst game (in the playoffs)."

Down 2-0 on its home court, Rosewood steadily built a lead in the third game. Stephanie Rhodes' ace pushed the Eagles' advantage to 15-10 and they kept that advantage on Courtney Hill's crosscourt kill off Abigail Barrow's assist.

Hill delivered Rosewood's next offensive point -- a midcourt kill off Kasie Braswell's assist to make it 19-15.

Trask uncorked a game-changing 6-1 run that included two Johnson blocks and one kill.

Clare Narron's dig against outside hitter Ashley Silance led to Abigail Barrow's off-speed hit inside the line. Braswell served an ace for a 22-21 lead, but the Titans moved back in front 23-22 on Johnson's back-to-back middle kills.

Rhodes blocked Johnson's next kill for the 23-23 tie. Trask ended Rosewood's phenomenal and record-setting season on an unforced error and Johnson's kill.

"The girls just really wanted it," said Byrd. "I have four seniors who have been playing since the school opened (four years ago). They just refuse to lose right now.

"With that one playoff bid, the pressure was on us the whole season. We couldn't afford to lose anything to get that wild card."

Tears flowed freely in the Rosewood huddle as Cochran addressed her team for the last time. Players listened as she counted the purple banners recognizing the 13 varsity sports which have won conference championships in school history.

Although the loss is painful, Cochran said a banner will soon hang acknowledging the volleyball team's accomplishments. She said "that's something you can be proud of and remember for a long time" before the team broke the huddle.

"A lot of people said we don't deserve to be here, but I think we do," said Cochran, whose team beat three conference champions to reach the final. "We played in the toughest bracket and I think Trask is a whole lot better than Pender.

"They're a well-rounded team and they played an awesome game today."

Notes: Six seniors -- Clare Narron, Stephanie Rhodes, Kelli Gurley, Brooke Goff, Abigail Barrow and Kasey Grey -- played their final match. They finished their varsity career with an incredible 42-4 record over the past two seasons. ... Braswell collected nine kills, while junior middle hitter Courtney Hill added eight. ... Barrow handed out 20 assists.