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Prep Volleyball Playoffs: Carson 3, Hickory Ridge 1

HARRISBURG – Hannah Elmore adjusted the icepack on her shoulder, and Aimee Cloninger fiddled with the brace on her left knee.
Carson’s volleyball team appeared to be headed for the nearest hospital after Tuesday’s playoff game at Hickory Ridge, but the only place the Cougars were headed was the third round of the 3A state playoffs.
Carson beat the Ragin’ Bulls 25-15, 22-25, 25-14 and 25-14.
The Cougars have accumulated 107 victories in the past four years under coach Kelan Rogers, but reaching the third round is a step they hadn’t taken.
“We did it on the road and we did it against a good team,” Rogers said. “We would liked for it to have been a little easier.”
Hickory Ridge (23-4) has won five straight SPC championships and has nine seniors, including amazing libero Haley Denny, but Carson (32-3) had more size and more power.
“We knew what was coming,” HR coach Patti Chason said. “We played them earlier (Carson won 3-1 in China Grove) and we don’t face hitters like Carson has in our league. We played as tough a non-conference schedule as we could to prepare for the playoffs, but Carson is just a very good team.”
The constant for Carson is setter Michaela White. She had 42 assists, including 15 in the pivotal third set.
Carson’s attack is sometimes centered around Cloninger and sometimes around Allison Blackwell, with White responsible for finding the hot hand. But White had all kinds of options on Tuesday.
Blackwell led with 16 kills and a fast-finishing Cloninger contributed 10, but Carson also got productive attacks from Elmore (11 kills), Madison Weast (seven) and Tori Pruett (six).
“We hit well,” Rogers said. “Our serves were off and our passing wasn’t consistent, but we did hit very well.”
Elmore, a tall junior, is the wild card for Carson. She pounds the ball, but sometimes it’s headed for the lobby. On this night, she was between the lines as well as powerful.
“It’s all about the pass for us,” Elmore said. “If we make good passes, we know we’re going to get good sets, and it’s not hard to hit it down.”
The first set was even at 13-13 when a kill by Pruett put the Cougars ahead to stay. Back-to-back service aces by Blackwell blew it open.
But Carson struggled in the second set, and Denny, whom Chason called the “heartbeat” of the Bulls , was amazing.
“No. 1 (Denny) was good tonight but even better the first time we played them,” Rogers said. “We knew we wanted to stay away from her. Hit it near her, and it’s coming back.”
Hickory Ridge had momentum going to the third set, but Carson jumped out 10-3 to reclaim control of the match.
“In the set we lost, we made a lot of errors and our passing was off,” Blackwell said. “But we got it back.”
Carson fans screamed “Hannah time!” over and over in that third set, as Elmore racked up five of her kills.
Weast, who led Carson’s defense with two solo stuffs and three combo blocks, finished that set with an emphatic kill.
Carson’s two seniors, Blackwell and Cloninger, teamed for eight kills in a final set that was never in doubt. Cloninger hammered one into the hardwood on match point.
Cloninger is a great player for Carson, so her health is essential moving forward.
“I’m having problems with my knee again,” she said with a sigh. “But I’ll keep pushing.”
In 2009, 2010 and 2011, Carson lost to Charlotte Catholic in the second round. The next opponent for Carson (32-3) is … you guessed it.
Carson will play at Catholic (23-4) on Thursday.

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