Rock the Ridge
CHINA GROVE — Carson senior Hannah “Hammer” Elmore had golden opportunities late in the fourth game.
But she missed long, and then she missed her patented shot down the line, and suddenly Carson’s volleyball team was faced with a decisive Game 5 for the first time all season.
“I just knew I had to keep my head in it,” Elmore said. “My teammates needed me to.”
It wasn’t long after her bad stretch that a confident Elmore ended Saturday’s ferocious match with a kill that couldn’t be defended even by Marvin Ridge defenders who had been digging everything Carson sent at them.
That kill was Elmore’s 23rd of a long, tough afternoon.
“You’ve always gotta keep swinging,” said senior Madison Weast, who had a monster day in the middle for the Cougars with 13 kills, 16 solo blocks and six combo blocks. “You can’t start tipping the ball and just pushing the ball. You’ve always got to believe you can put the ball down.”
Carson (33-0) put enough balls down to survive and advance with a 25-19, 24-26, 29-27, 20-25, 15-9 victory over the visiting Mavericks (22-5), but it was draining.
Next for the Cougars is a Tuesday matchup with Hickory St. Stephens (27-0). The West final will be a battle of unbeaten teams. The site and time will be announced.
Weast’s wars at the net with Marvin Ridge’s 6-foot-1 middle hitter Mereze Visagie, a smart girl headed to Johns Hopkins to launch a medical career, highlighted the afternoon. Visagie, injured last season when Carson faced Marvin Ridge, had 20 kills and carried the Mavericks in the fourth game.
“She was good, but it was still a pretty easy path to the ball and not that hard to get a block on her,” Weast said. “The big thing was their defense. They were scrappy, and they never stopped. They just kept getting to balls.”
Morgan Hester had 50 assists in the marathon. Michaela White started slow but finished strong with 21 kills. Elena Turnbull and Tori Pruett had four kills each. Jordan Osborne was a solid server. Laura Vaughn and Amanda Pruett performed their roles in the defense department.
After an ace by Osborne, Carson led the first game 20-10, but the Mavericks started to settle in by game’s end.
“We started shaky with serve-receive and couldn’t get the ball to our hitters,” Marvin Ridge coach Brook Hammers said. “But then we calmed down some, and the battle was on.”
Maddie Spurgeon and Makenzie Kuchmaner led Marvin Ridge to its Game 2 win. Then Carson was on the ropes — down 5-0, then 8-2, and then 17-11 — in the pivotal third game. Carson finally caught up on a kill by Elmore for 23-all and another Elmore kill made it 27-all.
Weast’s kill put the Cougars ahead by one, and Weast and Tori Pruett made the block for game point.
“Carson is an awesome team,” Hammers said. “Their comeback in that game was the key to the match.”
Carson got up early in Game 5 with Hester and Weast teaming for an emphatic block for a 5-2 lead, and then Weast soaring to smother Visagie at the net for 6-2.
Marvin Ridge scrapped back to a 9-8 deficit, but then White showed why she’s been county player of the year three straight times. She’s the K.P. Parks of Rowan County volleyball, and at the end, she took over.
“I just didn’t want this to be my last game,” White said.
Carson coach Kelan Rogers was relieved to see White take charge. Hester didn’t mind looking for her.
“At different times today, we were able to highlight different people,” Hester said. “I try my best to highlight whoever is on.”
White mashed points 10 and 11 and skied with Elmore for a block that made it 12-8.
White pounded another one for 13-8, driving it through the floor like her right arm was a jackhammer.
“Michaela wanted it, and you always want someone to say, ‘Give me the ball,’” Rogers said.
Elmore was blocked by two Mavericks on the point that made it 14-8, but luck was with Carson, and the ball fell just out of bounds.
Elmore left no doubt on the final point, ending the day with a rocket.
Like his team, Rogers rode a roller coaster all afternoon.
“We beat a really good team that played just about flawless,” he said. “They made a lot fewer mistakes than we did. They were consistent. For us, it was great plays followed by bad plays. We gift-wrapped some points for them, but we did hang in there and we won.”
Hammers agreed it was a memorable match.
“We showed great character all day,” she said. “But in Game 5, we got a little tentative, while Carson kept right on attacking.”
Like Weast said, you’ve got to keep swinging.
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