Prep volleyball: NPC semifinal, Carson 3, North Iredell 2
By Mike London
LANDIS ó Carson seniors Taylor Whitley and Breckin Settlemyer have been together a long time and have never been closer than in the final seconds of Tuesday’s NPC tournament semifinal.
Whitley and Settlemyer put their heads and fingers together and rose for a combo block that sealed a dramatic 12-25, 25-16, 25-23, 20-25, 15-11 win over North Iredell, the 2008 3A state champions.
The final points were played at a lofty level that had fans screaming in the South Rowan gym. Cougars jumped higher and dug deeper than anyone believed they could do when this season started. Against a taller team that hit the ball harder and had an acrobat for a setter, Carson (21-4) found a way to pull out what had to be the best win in school history.
“This is a team we’ve been wanting to beat a long time,” Whitley said. “This was something that we just had to prove to ourselves, and we found some extra intensity. Now we need to carry it on.”
Two of the third-seeded Cougars’ losses were to No. 2 seed North Iredell. The other two were to NPC champ West Iredell, the team Carson plays at 6 p.m. today at South for the championship.
Carson was moving in mud early, trailed 7-1 right away and was destroyed by relentless redhead Haley Rhyne, who unleashed six of her 17 kills in Game 1. Carson didn’t manage consecutive points until it trailed 13-5 and never made it competitive.
“That was bad,” Whitley said. “Just nerves. But we picked it up from there.”
The match spun around in Game 2 with Carson freshman Allison Blackwell teaming with Amber Ingraham and Shanna Stewart for energizing blocks.
“I thought we could play with them if we decided we would play,” Carson coach Kelan Rogers said. “There really were no magic words from me. North Iredell made some mistakes in Game 2, gave us some points, and that helped us settle down a bit. Then it started to click for us.”
The match peaked at the end of Game 3, with both teams fighting desperately to take control. Settlemyer, Carson’s middle hitter, was going around blocks with plenty of finesse and piled up seven kills in the game.
Jennifer Hough jumped off the Carson bench for two critical kills. She scored off a perfect set by Whitley for a 23-23 tie. After Settlemyer’s kill gave Carson a lead, Sarah Marshall made a tough dig that allowed Hough to pound down the game-clincher.
“The longer it went, the more we got into it and started playing our game,” Blackwell said. “We got more and more aggressive.”
Rhyne had four kills, and tall freshman Brooke Redmond had three blocks as the Raiders won Game 4.
Game 5 was 11-11 when the Cougars finally took over. A block by Settlemyer gave Carson a one-point lead. Then Settlemyer and Ingraham blocked Redmond for 13-11.
After a North Iredell timeout, Ingraham beat a double-block to make it 14-11. Then with Blackwell serving, Settlemyer and Whitley went up as one for the block that ended the match.
“We’ve come too far this year to ever back down again,” Settlemyer said. “They are good, and we knew they would come back. But we kept pushing. We were not giving up today.”
Settlemyer had 17 kills and six combo blocks. Blackwell had nine kills, three combo blocks, two solos and served three aces. Leah Perkins served nine points, and joined with Marshall, Madelyn Plummer and Marissa Sellers for airtight defense. After that first game, the little Cougars in the back kept everything that was returnable in play.
“I’m excited and proud of everyone,” said Ingraham, one of nine seniors. “We showed what skills we have.”