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Prep Volleyball: Carson, North Iredell battle for first place

CHINA GROVE – Carson volleyball coach Kelan Rogers sums up today’s match with North Iredell in three words.
“Pass, set, crush,” he says calmly. “That’s what you’re going to see a lot of from both sides.”
Pass, set, crush is volleyball at its highest level, and it will be on display today at approximately 6 p.m. in the Carson gym. The varsity game between the NPC powers will follow the jayvee contest.
Today’s tussle is the most anticipated regular-season matchup in Carson history and probably in county history. Carson is 16-0 and has won 48 straight sets. North Iredell is 10-0. Both teams are 5-0 in the NPC.
“North Iredell is one of the top teams in the state and has been for years,” Rogers said. “I think we are one of the best teams. It should be exciting and it should be entertaining.”
NCHSAA volleyball dates back to 1976 and Rowan County’s modest volleyball history doesn’t include any state-championship appearances. So it’s entirely possible that the current edition of the Cougars is the best team the county’s ever put on the floor. It’s also probably the tallest.
Rogers, who has churned out seasons of 22-6, 23-8 and 21-11 since coming to Carson from West Davidson, has taken what was a competitive program and raised it to the level of exceptional. Year-in, year-out, Carson has become one of the top 10 programs in 3A.
Injuries wrecked the Cougars in 2011, with five key players getting hurt in a range of ailments from knee injuries to concussions.
“I tore the meniscus in both knees,” talented senior outside hitter Aimee Cloninger said with a sigh. “It’s just great to have everyone healthy now and playing so well together. This is definitely the best team we’ve had.”
Rogers agrees. He’s coached three fine teams at Carson. This is the one that has a chance to push to the next plateau.
“No offense to any of my teams, but this one is the best,” he said. “We’ve played a tough schedule (Starmount twice, Reagan twice) and won them all. This is the team I thought we could be last year before girls got hurt. We have six or seven girls who can hit the ball down. We have five or six who can pass it to them. We have one of the best setters in the state (junior Michaela White). We have no glaring weakness for an opponent to exploit. We have 12 girls I feel very comfortable putting out there.”
Having said all that, North Iredell is the champion until someone can prove otherwise, and Carson is the challenger.
North Iredell’s record speaks for itself. The Raiders usually are able to fight off West Iredell (the 2007 state runner-up) and Carson in the NPC.
North Iredell also went on to claim the 3A championship in 2008 and lost in the title game to Cardinal Gibbons in both 2010 and 2011.
In its history, Carson has beaten North Iredell just once – in a five-set thrill-ride in the 2009 NPC tournament.
“North Iredell always passes well and is really powerful at the net,” Rogers said. “They’re still the upper-dogs because they’ve played in state championships. We haven’t done that.”
North Iredell survived a five-set scrap with West Iredell on Thursday, with the Redmond sisters, Brooke and Regan, powering 34 kills, and Emily Howard making 13 stuff-blocks.
That result still provided optimism for Carson. The Cougars swept West Iredell on the road.
“I believe we can play right with North Iredell if we play well,” Rogers. “You can flip a coin.”
The Cougars are definitely excited. Twenty-seven hours before gametime, enthusiasm was bubbling out of Cloninger.
“This is the big game,” she said. “Everyone says they’re coming.”
This may be only the first of four confrontations. A rematch in Olin on Oct. 11 is a sure thing and meetings in the NPC tournament and state playoffs are possible.
That’s a lot of pass, set, crush.

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