Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HARRISBURG — Hickory Ridge’s Rebecca Cochran soared to block Carson’s Morgan Hester, and an optimistic roar started in the Hickory Ridge cheering section, as the volleyball hurtled back in the direction it came from.
That roar died simultaneously in 200 throats. Carson’s Madison Weast was in the air, reading what was going to happen even before it happened, and was pounding Cochran’s nice block straight down to the floor for a kill.
Carson, which easily swept Hickory Ridge 25-14, 25-16 and 25-14, doesn’t get too exuberant about points — it expects to score 75 of them every time it plays— but Weast allowed herself a small air-punch after Monday’s mighty mash.
“Never stop until the whistle blows,” Weast said. “That play wasn’t over yet.”
For Carson (28-0, 15-0 SPC), most matches have been over shortly after the Cougars exited the bus.
The Cougars have been a perfect storm of talent, height, experience and coaching, and they have torn through the overmatched SPC like that Kansas tornado that tossed around Dorothy and Toto.
Carson lost two standout hitters in Aimee Cloninger and Allison Blackwell from the 2012 team that reached the 3A final, but there’s been no drop-off.
The Cougars do look different now with Hester often setting and former setter Michaela White roaming all over. Now teams don’t know if White, a three-time Rowan County Player of the Year who has committed to Charlotte, is going to set up Weast, Hannah Elmore or Tori Pruitt — or drill it off someone’s nose herself.
“I love having Morgan setting,” White said. “I’ve had a chance to do different things this year, and I like doing different things.”
Hickory Ridge coach Patti Chaison has steered her Ragin’ Bulls (18-5, 12-3) into second place, but she realized it was going to take a miracle to beat Carson.
“Michaela White has fantastic hands and can always put the ball anywhere she wants to,” Chaison said. “You ask your girls to play with heart, and we did that, but that’s all you can do. You can’t get upset about losing to a team as good as Carson. It’s sort of like playing against a small-college team.”
The Cougars won a regular-season conference championship for the first time in coach Kelan Rogers’ five-year tenure, but he downplayed that accomplishment. He’s got bigger fish to fry.
“We’ve actually played our best on Saturdays this year rather than conference matches,” Rogers said. “Today, we were OK, but this wasn’t our best. Too many missed serves, too many balls hit out on easy kills, and too many unforced errors.”
Rogers isn’t easy to please, but he gets the most out of his teams. Carson is 125-29 the past five seasons.
The Cougars who did the most to crash Hickory Ridge’s senior night party were Weast and Elmore with 10 kills each. Pruitt had eight, with five in a Game 3 flurry.
Hester had 21 assists. White had six kills and four aces. White, Elmore, Weast and Elena Turnbull produced blocks.
Jordan Osborne did major damage at the service line, recording nine straight points in Game 3. Libero Laura Vaughn was strong in the serve-receive department, switching Carson from defense to offense with accurate passes.
“That team we beat today was scrappy and some of the best competition in our new conference,” Weast said. “But no matter who we’re playing, we try to play at a high level. We’re always excited, but mostly we’re excited about what’s coming.’