High school volleyball: Carson out-determines NI for NPC win

Published 10:08 pm Thursday, October 3, 2019

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — North Iredell was taller, bouncier, quicker, smoother —  a highlight film waiting to happen.

But Carson volleyball is what it is. The Cougars not only won Thursday’s North Piedmont Conference match, they swept it 25-9, 25-21 and 25-23.

“You’ve got to believe and you’ve got to play with some confidence and today we did that,” Carson coach Kelan Rogers said. “We’re not going to out-height anybody or out-athlete anybody, but we beat a good team. Maybe we out-determined them.”

Carson is 13-4 overall, 3-3 NPC, but by the Cougars’ high standards that’s a down year. The first time through the NPC — and the NPC is wicked in volleyball — Carson lost to North Iredell, West Rowan and South Iredell.

North Iredell (9-5, 3-3) is ranked 10th in 3A and forced No. 1 West Rowan to play five sets recently.

North Iredell swept Carson in Olin on Sept. 17, but now the Cougars, ranked 14th, have returned the favor.

“We learned from the first time we played them,” said junior libero Kary Hales, who leads Carson’s defense. “They’re taller than us, but we played the angles better today. We picked up our defense. We passed better. We started really strong and kept it going. There were times when things got tight, but we never got shaken.”

In the first set, North Iredell’s long legs were still on the bus. Hales was pounding aces, as Carson went up 6-0. By the time it was 16-4, it was clear that any energy North Iredell used to try to get back in the set would be wasted. Carson ended it on kills by Jaden Vaughn and Katie Blackwell and an ace by Ella Cloninger.

“It was like a switch just flipped for us today, and we started off amazingly well,” said Cloninger, a 5-foot-7 outside hitter. “Everything was good. We never had downfalls for very long. We’d lose a point with a mistake, but then we’d win the next one.”

North Iredell came out with more energy for the second set, but Carson still jumped out 7-1.

North Iredell, which has a pair of talented 6-footers, charged within a single point at 16-15 and 18-17, but every time North Iredell made a move, Carson setter Tate Barger found Vaughn, the 5-10 junior middle hitter who is the offensive fulcrum for the Cougars. Vaughn delivered huge points and got help from Blackwell, Alayna Slusser and Hannah Saine.

Slusser and Saine had a surprise combo block for a 23-19 lead. A kill by Slusser put Carson up 24-20. On set point, Hales made a precise pass to Barger. She executed on the set for Vaughn, and Vaughn gave Carson the set and a 2-0 lead.

Vaughn isn’t automatic, but she is, by far, the strongest hitting option Carson has. She came into Thursday’s match with 222 kills, 150 more than anyone else on the team.

Those points to hang on to the second set probably were the most crucial ones of the day.

“We were able to stay on top of them,” Vaughn said. “Every time it looked like we might lose the momentum, we pulled together and kept the lead.”

The third set was a fight from the first serve. At 8-all, Slusser was double-blocked by two taller Raiders, but the ball landed outside the lines. Carson didn’t fall behind.

The last tie was at 17-all. Saine broke that deadlock with a timely kill for the Cougars, and Vaughn pushed the lead to 19-17.

Another Vaughn kill put the Cougars ahead 23-18, but when North Iredell got back to 23-22, there were still plenty of reasons to believe that if the Raiders could win the third set, they also could take sets 4 and 5.

With Carson leading 24-22, the Cougars set up Vaughn in the middle to end it, but her spike struck the top of the net and slid right back at her.

“Oh, I really wanted that one,” Vaughn said.

She was able to smile about it because North Iredell wasn’t able to take advantage. A missed serve by the Raiders ended the set and the match.

“The good thing was we were more confident than we’ve been,” Rogers said. “We’ve got a team that makes a lot of mistakes when we’re trying too hard not to make a mistake. But today we were aggressive. We were just going for it.  That’s how we need to play.”

Carson hosts East Rowan on Oct. 8, while North Iredell hosts Statesville.