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High school volleyball: South ends drought vs. Cougars

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — First cousins Kira and Anna Rymer probably were climbing trees or playing in a sandbox the last time South Rowan beat Carson in a volleyball match.

That 3-2 South victory came at home on Sept. 30, 2008, when the neighbors were rivals in the North Piedmont Conference. South broke out its new zebra-stripe uniforms for that occasion and setter Krista Haywood, thumpers Taylor May, Kayla Morrow and Molly Garrett and defender Taylor Lookabill led a team coached by Jan Dowling past an underdog Carson team guided by Trish Hester.

Since then, it’s been all Carson in the rivalry, as coach Kelan Rogers, who took over in 2009, has put together squads that have ranged from good to great (two regional champions). Finally the Raiders broke through on Monday, a day of the week on which Rogers despises playing.

“We made tons of mistakes — hitting errors, setting errors and passing errors that we don’t normally make,” Rogers said. “But that’s not to take anything away from South. They were better defensively than we were today and they were just better than us today. They were ready from the start and they stayed up. I think we got a little intimidated and played scared.”

To see more photos from Monday’s match, click here.

South’s 25-21, 21-25, 26-24 and  25-18 victory was worthy of its place in the record books. South’s student section made the 5-mile road trip, turning it into a virtual home game for the Raiders. Anna Rymer, a long-armed junior, who sets, blocks and kills, finished the pivotal third and the climactic fourth sets with solo blocks in the middle. The jubilant Raiders bounced around after their long-awaited victory like they were auditioning for “Dancing With the Stars.” In all honesty, this was bigger for them than any league game they can win this year.

“We played so hard, had so much energy, and we were so much louder than we usually are,” senior Kira Rymer said. “We finally beat them. All I can say is all of us wanted it super-bad.”

South (8-1) is good. That’s not really in question. The Raiders are the clear favorites in the 2A Central Carolina Conference. The only team they’ve lost to is 3A West Rowan, and the Falcons (7-0) are ranked second in the state for all classifications.

Carson (5-1) came in undefeated and ranked ninth in the state, but that’s a ranking based mostly on tradition and history. There were a lot of Cougars on the floor who are in their first varsity season. Carson has work to do and some coming together to do before it has any chance to deal with the best teams in the North Piedmont Conference.

“We’ve got good leaders, but we’ve got to follow them,” Rogers said. “We can’t get mad when someone tries to lead. Hopefully, we’ll get it. Hopefully, we’ll get better.”

The match was very much up in the air after the first two sets. Kira Rymer took over the first set late, but Carson junior Jaden Vaughn owned the second set, finishing it off with a kill and a block, and it was 1-all.

The  drama arrived in the third set. South came out fiercely, roaring to leads of 9-1 and 14-3.

“It was get it to the middle and put it down,” Kira Rymer said. ‘Everyone was doing their part.”

Carson was knocked back, but made a stand and started working its way back into the set one point at a time. South fans were getting antsy by the time it was 16-9. When Carson junior Kary Hales registered an ace, it was 17-13, and there was plenty for South to worry about.

When Kylie Judy beat a block attempt by Kira Rymer, South’s lead dwindled to 22-21. When Carson senior Katie Blackwell beat a double block for a kill, Carson led 23-22, and it appeared South was headed for a catastrophic collapse and more frustration against Carson. But with a stirring comeback within reach, the Cougars missed two serves and slid behind 25-24. Then Anna Rymer’s block — the biggest moment of the night — gave South the set and a 2-1 lead.

“The third set definitely was the key set,” South coach Jenna Horne said. “We made so many mistakes, but we always came back. We always kept playing, and I was so proud of that.”

The fourth and final set was a bitter struggle, with Carson inching to slim leads for a while. A kill by Anna Rymer got South even at 8-all. It was still even at 13-all, but then Vaughn hit one out, and Kira Rimer got one down, and South owned a two-point lead. The Raiders kept the momentum going from there, with Kira Rymer scoring on a smart dink for 23-17. Both Rymers were in on the point that made it 24-18, and Anna Rymer finished the match with an emphatic block.

“We left it all out there, left nothing behind,” Anna Rymer said. “We’ve felt all along that we have a special team. We felt we like we had  a team that could break that streak.”

Kira Rymer, who is closing in on the unusual double of  1,000 career kills and 1,000 career assists, had 26 kills and 16 digs. Anna Rymer had 14 kills, 13 digs and 25 assists, with most of those assists setting up her cousin. Ashlyn Faw had five kills and 12 digs. Payton Black had 20 digs, while Cameron Black had 13 digs.

“From the moment we stepped off the bus, the girls were telling each other they could do this,” Horne said. “And we did it. Carson is a great program. To finally beat them, that’s a very big step for us.”

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