10/20/06 — NCHSAA volleyball playoffs Ñ Nine area teams begin state-title quests Saturday

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NCHSAA volleyball playoffs Ñ Nine area teams begin state-title quests Saturday

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 20, 2006 2:12 PM

The wait has been short for some and long for others.

Regardless, a record nine schools in the News-Argus coverage area begin their respective quests for N.C. High School Athletic Association volleyball championships this weekend.

Just two teams are making return trips -- 2005 eastern Class 1-A runner-up Rosewood and 2006 Carolina Conference co-champion Princeton. Charles B. Aycock and North Lenoir each seized an automatic qualifying bid after a one-year absence.

Eastern Wayne, the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference tournament champion, earned its first postseason trip since 2002. North Duplin ended up fourth in the Carolina Conference and secured an automatic berth, which snapped a 16-year playoff drought.

James Kenan returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Meanwhile, Greene Central collected its first postseason bid -- and second overall -- since 1977 after a third-place performance in the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference. Southern Wayne, which started the season six weeks late, emerged the lone area program to receive a wild-card invitation to the 64-team field.

The Saints, who finished 3-8 overall and fifth in the six-team ECC, are the guests of West Brunswick on Saturday. West Brunswick is the No. 1 seed from the 3-A portion of the split Mideastern 3-A/4-A Conference. A game time had not been announced as of press time.

Eastern Wayne (15-2) entertains Western Alamance at 4 p.m. Saturday. Aycock (12-6) travels to D.H. Conley, the 2005 state 3-A runner-up. That match has been moved to 11 a.m. to avoid traffic associated with East Carolina's home football contest.

North Duplin (9-7) is the guest of Pender, a perennial power and the Coastal Plains champion. Princeton (18-4) plays host to Midway and Rosewood, the 2005 eastern 1-A regional runner-up, welcomes Holly Ridge Dixon.

Greene Central travels to Hillsborough Orange, which competes the Mid-State Conference. North Lenoir (18-3) is making its fifth postseason appearance with sixth-year head coach Heather Humphrey Carson and entertains Franklinton. The Rams (6-15) missed the postseason a year ago.

James Kenan (12-6) visits Rocky Point for a matchup against Heide Trask, the 2005 state 1-A runner-up.

The NCHSAA had originally planned to expand from 32 to 48 teams and add wildcards onto the bracket. But a special committee that represented all sports recommended a 64-team field to give each conference statewide more playoff berths.

"A lot of work was done beforehand before a final decision was made," said Carolyn Shannonhouse, assistant executive director of the NCHSAA. "It will be interesting to see how this works. It's a new process, so it will take some time and tweaking to get it working right."

Coaches and athletics directors worried about violating the Association's rule of playing more than three matches in one week since a majority of the conferences conduct season-ending tournaments. Their concerns surrounded the possibility of lower-seeded teams winning three games in tournament play. Shannonhouse said those conferences simply could not play again until Saturday to avoid any confusion.

"I was surprised at how many conferences we have that play conference tournaments," said Shannonhouse by telephone late Thursday afternoon. "But, there were some conferences that did not have postseason tournaments, so those schools, believe it or not, elected to play tonight.

"I guess they did their homework to see who they'd be playing and the two schools mutually agreed to play early."

Coaches also wondered why the NCHSAA didn't use the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday for the second week of postseason play. Shannonhouse said a survey was sent to a select group of coaches who consistently make the quarterfinal round and asked their input on a second week of Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday play.

Most of the coaches polled requested to keep the second Thursday open before the state championship.

"There was mixed opinion, but the majority favored that," said Shannonhouse. "We just wanted to get a feel for what we needed to do and find which direction to go."