Warriors crowned ECC champions
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 19, 2006 2:13 PM
WILSON -- Disappointed by top-four finishes and near misses in playoff qualifying during their prep careers, Eastern Wayne's senior volleyball players finally ended those frustrations Wednesday evening.
And two underclassmen led the way.
Brittanni Billups, a junior outside hitter, pounded out a career-high 20 kills as the Warriors dethroned reigning Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference tournament queen Wilson Beddingfield in a five-set thriller. Junior setter Brooke Newsome distributed a career-high 42 assists among five hitters in the 26-24, 25-20, 23-25, 18-25, 15-9 victory.
Eastern Wayne (15-2) seized the No. 1 seed for the expanded N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, which begin Saturday. The Warriors play host to a wild-card entry that was not determined until Thursday afternoon.
Beddingfield (19-5) slipped to the No. 2 spot and will entertain Havelock in opening-round play on Saturday.
"I don't think we had the legs tonight that we've had in the past," said Warriors coach Bruce Burridge. "I don't think we played to the best of our ability, but we played well enough to win."
Eastern Wayne collected season highs in team kills (46) and team digs (42), and grabbed a 7-2 edge in solo blocks. The Warriors claimed their ninth consecutive victory, a program-best streak under Burridge's guidance, and ruined the Bruins' 13-match home-court win streak against ECC opposition.
The teams split the regular-season series with each winning on its homecourt.
"I don't think that we came mentally prepared for the game," said Warriors assistant coach Holly Van Hofwegen. "I think because of how we played (them) the last time, they were expecting an easier game and I don't think they were hyped up ... didn't come together as well as a team as we have been."
Van Hofwegen added that the Warriors have added some wrinkles to their offense -- slide kills, off-speed quick hits and combinations. The Warriors misfired on several of those plays against the Bruins, but managed to hang on and secure the program's first-ever tournament title.
The one-hour, 49-minute marathon featured 17 ties and 11 lead changes.
Eastern Wayne erased a four-point deficit in the opening game and forced an 18-18 deadlock on a Bruin hitting error. After trading sideouts, the Warriors grabbed a 20-20 tie when Billups slammed a kill off the head of 6-foot-4 middle blocker Jean Best.
The teams battled through four more ties before Eastern Wayne benefited from an off-speed hitting error. Jordei Osby drilled a game-clinching kill off Best's solo-block attempt to make it 26-24.
In game two, the Warriors rallied again from a four-point deficit. LeAnna Rothwell tied the game at 15-15 with one of her team-high five service aces. Osby delivered her second kill and Anna Wilkins blocked an off-speed hit by the Bruins' Casey Elliott to make it 17-15.
Rothwell kept the 8-0 run alive with back-to-back aces. Eastern Wayne eventually pulled away for the 25-20 win and a 2-0 advantage in the overall match score.
Beddingfield thwarted a late game-three rally and denied the Warriors' comeback attempt in the fourth to even the match at 2-2.
"After we lost, everybody was kind of down, hanging their head and nobody was pumped," said Wilkins. "I was tired because it's a sauna in here, but I knew we'd pull it out. We got the first kill and from there we got the momentum going our way."
Billups, who caught fire late in games three and four, put Eastern Wayne up 2-0 on a monster kill to the middle. Carly Boyette followed with an off-speed hit and solo block against Best. The Warriors eventually led 8-1 and never let the Bruins back into the match.
"That fifth game we were playing to win and not lose," said Van Hofwegen.
Sweat pouring down her smiling face, senior middle hitter Anna Wilkins immediately grabbed her cell phone and called her dad once the match ended. Wilkins relayed the good news and hung up.
"Oh man," said Wilkins. "My whole career, we've never been to the playoffs and the best we had done was second place. We were conference co-champions (this year). Now, we're tournament champions and going to the playoffs.
"It's crazy ... awesome."
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