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Cougars win on Senior Night

CHINA GROVE — Carson’s Elena Turnbull adjusted the bulky icepack on her right shoulder and managed a small smile.
Turnbull is playing hurt but playing well. The springy middle hitter keyed Carson’s 25-21, 25-16, 24-26 and 25-19 victory over Hickory Ridge on Tuesday’s Senior Night.
Turnbull had eight kills in the second set alone as the Cougars grabbed control, and she pounded five more in the final set as Carson finally recaptured momentum from the charging Ragin’ Bulls.
“Elena was a powerhouse,” Carson senior Rachel Moore said.
Carson volleyball isn’t quite what it was in 2012 and 2013 when it won back-to-back Western Regional championships, but coach Kelan Rogers is still feisty and the hustling Cougars are still winners. Carson (14-6, 11-4) looks to be headed for a third-place finish in the nine-team SPC after beating Hickory Ridge (13-10, 9-6).
“Carson is one of the better teams in our league, but we’re our own worst enemy sometimes,” Hickory Ridge coach Patty Chaison said. “We didn’t pass well, we got down, and it was hard to get back up.”
Considering Carson graduated six all-county players, it’s hard to find fault with a 14-6 record. Half of Carson’s losses came when it faced SPC leader Cox Mill, second-place Northwest Cabarrus and Hickory Ridge in the same week — and with Turnbull sidelined.
“All I could do then was cheer,” Turnbull said. “It’s good to be back, but this wasn’t about getting back at Hickory Ridge — it was just about winning for our seniors. That was my focus.”
While Hickory Ridge has nine seniors on the roster, Carson has only two — Moore and Makenna Pate.
“It’s not like we beat some bad team,” Rogers said. “Hickory Ridge is a good team, an experienced team.”
Moore and Pate played more than usual. Both did exceptionally well in a gym decorated with balloons and streamers. Moore came through with strong serves and blocks. Pate had some big digs.
“It was very emotional, very exciting,” Pate said. “It was a hard match, but we focused and we got through it. We did what we had to do to win.”
The only current Carson players who saw much court time for last season’s steamroller were Turnbull, Jordan Osborne and Morgan Hester.
“We had a tough stretch when Elena was out,” Hester said. “We’re a really young team, and when you’re as young as we are, it’s hard to stay focused all the time.”
After Turnbull, Moore, Osborne and Kaytee Leonguerrero, who shares setting duties with Hester, dominated the second set, Carson appeared certain to sweep.
But the Ragin’ Bulls fought back, and Rogers sat down after receiving a yellow card. Faith Hall reeled off three straight aces to ignite the Bulls’ rally, and Caroline Kelly had a block and kill that gave the Bulls the third set.
Carson fell behind 13-9 in the fourth set before the young veterans — Hester, Osborne and Turnbull — took over and made Senior Night a happy occasion.
“We had to fight and we brought our energy back up,” Turnbull said.
Rogers is optimistic now that he has his full team back on the court.
“I wouldn’t say we’re healthy, but at least everyone is playing,” he said. “The girls did a good job tonight. I just wish we could’ve played like this all year.”
At the very least, the Cougars made it a night that two seniors won’t forget.
“It’s always a great feeling when you work together and pull one out,” Moore said.

The SPC regular season ends Thursday. … The SPC tournament semifinals and championship will be hosted by South Rowan.
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.

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