09/28/07 — Spring Creek rallies past Princeton

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Spring Creek rallies past Princeton

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 28, 2007 3:08 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Spring Creek started second-half play on the Class 1-A Carolina Conference volleyball scene in reverse fashion Thursday afternoon.

Dealt a league-opening loss by Princeton less than three weeks ago, the Gators earned revenge behind Kristin Smith. The senior middle hitter supplied a career- and school-record 27 kills in a come-from-behind 23-25, 25-15, 25-20, 25-20 victory.

Spring Creek (10-2 overall) rose to 4-2 in conference play and dropped the Bulldogs (8-7) to third place at 3-3. North Johnston, according to the league's coaches, held the top spot after first-half action concluded Tuesday.

Smith pounded out a career-high 23 kills against Princeton on Sept. 11. This time, she received some much-welcomed assistance from fellow senior Tasha Whitfield, who pounded out 14 kills.

Whitfield didn't play against the Bulldogs in their first meeting due to a swollen ankle. Her absence disrupted the team chemistry and eventually led to a five-set defeat after the Gators had taken a 2-0 lead.

"It was very important to have her," said Gators setter Ashley Barwick. "She really contributed to our passes and our plays (on offense). Without her, I don't think we could have done much today.

"She had some nice blocks and some nice hits."

The extra middle attacker caused Princeton to clog up its defense, which constantly dug up off-speed hits. But communication breakdowns and inconsistent passing allowed Smith and Whitfield to flourish at the net most of the match.

"Both of their hitters are excellent, so having one on the net all the time really makes a difference," said Bulldogs coach Trudi Rast. "I think our girls did really well today moving and digging out some hard hits.

"But I feel like the little things are what killed us in the games we lost."

Princeton recorded 11 service errors, including game point in the opening set and twice in the fourth set with the score tied each time. A whopping 27 unforced errors, including 13 in the third set, also caused Rast some anguish.

Spring Creek committed its fair share of miscues, but generated consistent attacks off transition balls. Brandi Simpkins turned in a tremendous passing game, which allowed Barwick and Brooke Albertson to feed balls to Smith and Whitfield. Barwick and Albertson combined for 37 assists.

The Bulldogs led 23-17 in the opening set when Smith finally rotated back to the front row. She collected three kills and a solo block to pull the Gators within 23-21. Whitfield served an ace to make it 23-22 and Princeton closed out the set on a Spring Creek hitting error.

Smith and Whitfield combined for 11 kills and a block in a dominating second-set effort. Smith also served three aces as the Gators tied the match at 1-1.

Princeton outside hitter Katie Sasser connected on one of her four kills to trim the Gators' advantage to 16-14 in the third set. Spring Creek answered with a set-closing 9-6 run that included five kills from Smith and a set-ending kill from Whitfield.

"I think my girls just wanted it," said Gators coach Deanna Morris.

The Bulldogs opened the fourth set with a 5-0 run. Back-to-back kills from Smith eventually gave the Gators a one-point advantage they'd keep for several sideouts.

Princeton tied the set at 18-18 and 20-20, but surrendered possession on a serve error. Smith answered with two kills and Whitfield served back-to-back aces to finish off the match.

"(Tied at 18) coach told us to be positive, stay together and that we could do it," said Barwick. "We played really well together tonight and Tasha came through at the end.

"I told her she could do it."