High school volleyball: West plays with ‘sense of urgency’

Published 12:05 am Friday, September 20, 2019

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan volleyball coach Jan Dowling has given award-winning pep talks during her long career, but she really didn’t need one on Thursday.

There was more than enough motivation for everyone with the South Iredell Vikings in the house. West only lost five matches in 2018, but two were 3-2 soul-crushers to North Piedmont Conference rival South Iredell, and the second one came in the semifinals of the NPC Tournament, when Rowan fans were eager to see a West vs. Carson championship game.

“South Iredell is the only team that beat us twice last year,” said West junior outside hitter KK Dowling, the coach’s daughter. “My mom did remind us of that fact a few times this week. We were determined to come out and jump on them. We wanted to set that tone right away.”

West was strong at the start and at the finish and swept South Iredell 25-13, 25-17 and 25-22 to stay undefeated. West (11-0, 2-0) is ranked first in 3A and second in the state (behind 4A Green Hope) for all classifications.

“West just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and they don’t let any balls drop,” South Iredell coach Megan Skouby said. “We’re a better team than we showed today and we should be able to compete with them better than we did, but that’s not to take anything away from West. They’re very good and you can tell they want it.”

Tori Hester had two kills in the opening moments, as the Falcons came out flying. Skouby called timeout at 6-0, but the deficit reached 8-0 on an Allison Ennis ace before South finally got on the board. Dowling’s first kill crashed to the floor and made it 13-2, and the first set was all but history. South Iredell started to settle in by the end of that first set, but West was never seriously threatened.

The second set was tougher. It was 13-all when Ennis, West’s setter, dumped one over the net herself. That key point put the Falcons ahead to stay. After a kill and an ace by Hester for a 17-14 lead, the Falcons started pulling away.

“I thought we were really good today with our Falcon Fanatics cheering us on,” Coach Dowling said. “Tori was Tori and she led us, but we were pretty even, with a lot of girls contributing. This is the first time  I’ve seen us play with the sense of urgency I’m looking for. I was super-proud of the focus and the intensity.”

South Iredell led 14-11 in the third set after an ace by Ali Warren and had some momentum, but West wasn’t fazed and answered with five straight points. Down 16-14, South Iredell got a timeout and stabilized. At 19-all, it was West that needed a timeout.

“We knew we wanted to win in three,” Ennis said. “It was hot in here and we didn’t want to play any longer than we had to. I’ve got two go-to hitters in Tori and KK, and after that timeout, I knew I was going to get it to one of them. They’re both so consistent.”

She got it to Hester out of that timeout, and the Falcons led 20-19. Then Emma Gusler, with a lot of open space behind her, went high for a solo block that might have been the biggest point of the day. With West leading 24-20, the Vikings (10-4, 1-1) fought back to 24-22 on a kill by junior UNC commit Marissa Meyerhoefer.

But Ennis, who took a hard shot to the face when West lost to South Iredell in the NPC Tournament last season, had the last word. Spotting Dowling on her left, she made the set for match point,  and Dowling, a lefty, finished things off with a perfectly placed punch down the line.

“I saw the opening, and I pushed it deep,” KK Dowling said. This was a good match for us. We stayed at a high level all the way.”

Dowling played under the weather early in the season before she was finally diagnosed with mono. She only missed about a week, and now looks as good as new. She provides a lot of the fire for the Falcons, while Hester is very much under control. They balance each other well.

Besides the 17 kills, Troy commit Hester had 13 digs and four aces. Dowling had 13 kills and 11 digs. West’s tall middles Carly Stiller and Kelcie Love combined for six blocks.

“We blocked great,” Coach Dowling said. “One of the things I love about this team is that they can take what we work on in drills and do it in a game. Not every team can do that.”

Stiller also had three kills, while Love had eight digs. Gusler had five kills and three blocks. Ennis had 29 assists, 15 digs and three aces.

West freshmen Brooke Kennerly and Ashlee Ennis (Allison’s sister) had good days in the back and combined for 17 digs, some of them spectacular.

“You have to be on every night in this league,” Skouby said. “West was on, and we weren’t.”