NPC Volleyball Championship: West Iredell 3, Carson 1
By Mike London
LANDIS ó Carson’s volleyball team didn’t climb through a window of opportunity on Wednesday, and West Iredell finally slammed it shut.
The NPC tournament final came down to a handful of points in Game 3, when Carson was surging, West Iredell was reeling and half the South Rowan gym was shaking from noise made by Cougar supporters.
“We wanted it bad, had some fire and were giving it all we had,” Carson senior Jennifer Hough said. “Our mindset was we could do it, but West Iredell really works hard as a team.”
The top-seeded Warriors (19-1) stayed cool under pressure, took the key points and seized the match 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 25-17.
“West Iredell has good talent, they communicate well and they have a great tradition of playing in this kind of big game,” Carson senior Shanna Stewart said. “We weren’t used to it. This was our first time.”
Breckin Settlemyer led the Cougars with 14 kills, while Hough had 13. Allison Blackwell had nine.
Third-seeded Carson (21-5) endured its standard awful start, got down early and dropped Game 1.
“We’re still coming out flat every time we play one of the good teams, and that really shouldn’t be happening in Match No. 26,” Carson coach Kelan Rogers said.
The Cougars settled in and took over Game 2. Taylor Whitley and Leah Perkins served well. Settlemyer’s block broke a 15-all tie and put Carson ahead to stay. Settlemyer ended the game with a kill off a set by Whitley.
Carson’s last lead in the pivotal third game was at 14-13, but with Blackwell and Hough teaming for nine kills, the Cougars stayed in good position. A dig by Marissa Sellers and a sweet kill down the line by Hough finally lifted Carson within 23-22. After WI’s Anna Johnson smashed a kill for 24-22, Settlemyer’s answer was a block for 24-23.
The next point was an extended one. Stewart finally hit just long down the right side to end the game.
“Sometimes the pass isn’t quite perfect and I leaned a little, but I wanted to be aggressive like we’ve been aggressive all year,” Stewart said. “Most of the time it’s worked out for us with points and wins.”
Game 4 didn’t go well. Carson lots its zip. The crowd quieted. The Warriors cruised.
“We died,” Rogers said. “Our serving died and our defense died. No. 3 (Johnson) for them is a really good player. She had a bit of an off-night, but we didn’t take advantage.”
West Iredell’s only loss was to Newton-Conover. It ran the table in the NPC ó regular season and tourney ó and beat Carson three times.
“Undefeated in a league as good as this one, that’s a dream come true,” West Iredell coach Krystle Miller said. “We pulled this one out today against a very tough team.”
On Saturday, the Cougars will hi hit the road for the first playoff game in their four-season history.
“You learn something from each match,” Stewart said. “As tough as this was, we’ll put it under our belts and play our hearts out Saturday.”