Prep Volleyball Playoffs: Carson rolls in first round
By Marny Hendrick
CHINA GROVE - In the midst of their greatest season ever, the Carson Cougars opened the state 3A volleyball playoffs Saturday afternoon with an impressive 3-0 sweep of the Weddington Warriors. It was impressive because they improved to 31-3 with a combination of power and finesse against a talented Weddington team from the Southern Carolina Conference that held its own with some solid runs, especially in the second and third games. Coming off a big North Piedmont Conference tournament title win against arch-rival North Iredell and opening the play-offs with a sweep, all should be great in Cougar Land right? Well, not exactly. "We were just playing around tonight," Carson coach Kelan Rogers noted. "We weren't playing at a level where we need to be. Hey, we like to play just good enough to win, sometimes." Rogers admits he might be happy if his team was winning 25-0 in every game, maybe. Yet when you have great expectations, the bar is fairly high. "We have been very motivated to accomplish some things this season, " Rogers said, "and now we want to keep moving in the playoffs." Both Carson and Weddington (15-9) came in as second seeds from their respective conferences. The Cougars set the tone early with a 25-11 romp in the opening game, thanks to an 8-0 run late and a pair of timely service aces from senior Aimee Cloninger. She added two more aces to start Game 2 and totaled six for the match. But Weddington battled back in the second game behind senior captains Nicole Gaylord and Anna Reichenbach at the net to tie the game at 14-14 and again at 15. A Cloninger kill and an ace by Michaela White enabled Carson to pull away late and prevail 25-19. Two more aces to open Game 3 by Cloninger and the blocking tandem of White and Madison Weast pushed Carson to a quick 8-2 lead. Weddington did fight off six straight match points behind the defense of Jessica Snyder but lost the deciding game 25-18. The serving prowess of Cloninger was a key factor overall. "I think if you serve hard and you serve aggressive, you have a better chance of getting into their heads," Cloninger said. "I try to mix it up by serving between them and then right at them to keep them guessing." The Carson front line defense had a good outing as well with two dozen blocks at the net behind White, Weast and Hannah Elmore. They also registered 16 kills for the match, led by Elmore with five and Cloninger with three. Weddington coach Carrie Rogers felt her team made a good showing against the talented Cougars despite coming in with a sophomore-laden squad. "It is consistency that has been our problem this year," Rogers said. "Carson is a very good team, but if we could consistently put the ball where we want it to go, we would be much better off." Carson moves on to round two where it will travel to face Hickory Ridge, top seed in the South Piedmont Conference, on Tuesday.