High school volleyball: South looking to make history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 25, 2018

By Mike London

LANDIS — South Rowan’s volleyball team is looking to do something the program has never accomplished — win a regular-season conference championship.

South is getting closer to turning dreams into reality. After Monday’s 25-16, 25-7, 25-4 romp against North Davidson in the South gym, the Raiders (13-3, 11-1) are alone in first place. They’ve split with Ledford (11-2, 9-2) and they won their first meeting with West Davidson (12-4, 10-2). If they can handle West Davidson in the rematch in Tyro on Thursday, then they’re probably going to be champions.

“Beating Ledford last Thursday, that was huge for our confidence because Ledford had beaten us twice last season and again in the first meeting this year,” South head coach Jenna Horne said. “We’re still preaching staying focused and staying positive and staying together. We’ve got five more CCC matches to go and we’ve got a lot of momentum. We’re pumped up, ready to go.”

The Raiders have special players in Janiya Downs and cousins Kira Rymer and Anna Rymer. That trio overwhelmed North Davidson (5-9, 5-6 CCC).

Downs, a 5-foot-11 high-flyer, is the reigning Rowan County Athlete of the Year and Co-Player of the Year for basketball. She made it look easy. She owned the middle of the net on Monday with 14 kills and seven blocks. Kira had seven kills and eight assists. Anna had seven assists and four aces, and South could count on a flurry of points every time she stepped to the service line.

“This has been an exciting year, chasing a championship,” Downs said. “We’re working as a team with good passes, good sets and good hits. That’s why we’re first in the conference.”

Downs was soaring last year, but she’s been more consistent as a senior captain.

“She’s always been able to jump and get kills,” assistant coach Barry Rymer said. “But she’s improved her technique a lot. She’s better passing and digging, and she’s making fewer mistakes and fewer hitting errors. She’s playing smarter. Sometimes the kill isn’t there, and you have to be smart.”

Downs surpassed 200 kills for the season on Monday, but she’s still a few behind co-captain Kira Rymer, a powerful junior who had 364 kills last season.

“Kira has great hands, great skills,” Horne said. “Just a great all-around volleyball player.”

South was strong in its 2A debut last season when it finished 19-8 overall and 15-3 in the CCC for third place behind Ledford (17-1) and West Davidson (16-2).

The team has gotten better, with improvement from returning players and the addition of freshman libero Payton Black, who paces the team in digs, and junior Ashlyn Faw, who does a little of everything.

Black had 18 digs against North Davidson, while Faw had seven.

“We have more solid players this year,” Horne said. “These girls have worked hard in practice and they’ve competed hard in games. It’s a good group, an easy group of girls to work with. They’ve connected on and off the court.”

The space reserved for volleyball titles on the wall of the South gym isn’t entirely bare. In 2004, against tall odds, the Raiders, coached by Jan Dowling, traveled to North Davidson and won the Central Piedmont Conference Tournament. That team — Adrienne Alexander, Laura Davis, Alexa Jacobs, Brittany Durant, and so on — was a 10-10, third-place squad that played inspired volleyball for a handful of days. When the Raiders stunned North Davidson in the conference tournament championship match on their home court, the Black Knights hadn’t lost to a conference team all season.

That night, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004, never will be forgotten at South because that tournament run was dedicated to the late Katie Smith, but 14 years is quite a dry spell. Are the Raiders ready to win another trophy?

“We’ve got a good team because a lot of us have been playing together a long time,” Kira Rymer said. “That Ledford match last week was just so big for everyone. We had to win one of those games, 33-31, and that showed us what we can do together. We want to put a banner on the wall. We need to do it this year while we’ve still got Janiya.”