Prep volleyball: Statesville 3, South Rowan 2 (NPC tourney)

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 19, 2009

By Mike London
STATESVILLE ó Statesville owns some of the NPC’s springier legs and longer arms, but South Rowan volleyball coach Jan Dowling attributed her team’s season-ending loss to other anatomical parts.
After fourth-seeded Statesville outlasted the Raiders 23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 15-9 at Sampsel Gym in the first round of the NPC tournament, Dowling pointed at the Greyhounds’ hearts.
“Athletically, Statesville’s about as good as it gets, but volleyball-wise, I believe we should be better,” Dowling said. “But they let no balls hit the floor and we watched balls hit the floor. When the chips are down, when push comes to shove, you have to put your cleats in the turf and dig down a little bit deeper and want that ball. They did that, and we didn’t. All my personal experience says a team with the most heart wins a match like that.”
Obviously, it was a difficult loss for the fifth-seeded Raiders, who tied Statesville for fourth place in the regular season, splitting home-and-home scraps that both lasted five games.
South lost despite 19 kills, seven solo blocks and three combo blocks by Lenoir-Rhyne-bound Kayla Morrow and 13 kills by Amber Waldroup, who had two carry-the-team hot streaks.
Sam Goins contributed seven kills, including the finishers in games 1 and 3. Setter Nicole Barringer added six kills.
Joni Henderson had 13 kills to lead the Greyhounds, while Janitsha Williams had 10 kills. Henderson’s soaring, seering blast that caromed off Taylor Lookabill, who had no chance to keep it in play, ended the match.
“That was amazing, just what I wanted,” Henderson said. “It was a make-or-break day for us, and we kept our spirits up. Last week, we were down 2-1 to South and came back strong. We knew we could do it again.”South had Statesville on the ropes in Monday’s rubber match but couldn’t quite close out the feisty Greyhounds.
“I walked past their huddle before the match and their coach was telling them it was going to be a battle ó and it was,” Statesville coach Denise Hayes said. “Two evenly matched teams. It’s fun to play when they’re like that.”
Even more fun when you win.If there was a point where the match turned, it was late in Game 2.
Waldroup was on a roll and had nailed three straight kills to turn a 22-20 deficit into a 23-22 lead. South was on the verge of taking a 2-0 lead in games when Williams, a basketball phenom, almost left the gym to extend a point. Sprinting past the ticket-takers near the side door like a wide receiver, back to the net, she made a remarkable over-the-shoulder save. Statesville won that point, then took the next two to even the match.
“You always think they can make a play like that,” Hayes said of Williams’ eye-popping maneuver. “But it still makes you feel good when they do it.”
South bounced back in Game 3. Statesville returned the favor in Game 4. Game 5 was all Greyhounds. They jumped on top 3-0. Henderson had four clutch kills, and South never got back in it. Careers ended for South’s seniors.
“I still think we’re better than Statesville, but their hearts beat us today,” Morrow said. “We didn’t have that same want-to that they did.”
Henderson offered props to Morrow.
“When you play South, you have to be focused on her because she’s an amazing player,” Henderson said. “She always comes at you strong. Nothing is weak.”
South was 18-6 in 2008. After subtracting standouts Taylor May, Krista Haywood and Molly Garrett, it closes the books for 2009 with a 13-9 mark and puts away uniforms earlier than expected.
Yesterday’s match decided one of the NPC’s four playoff representatives, and South settles for being the fifth-best team.
South is the host school for this afternoon’s tournament semifinals, but if the frustrated Raiders are in the gym, they’ll be in the bleachers wearing blue jeans and thinking about what might’ve been.