Prep volleyball: West Rowan falls in region final, 3-2

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2019

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s volleyball team took their fans on one more roller-coaster ride on Tuesday.

It was well worth the $8 admission, but this time there was no happy ending.

Top-seeded West Rowan had it going there for a while in the third and fourth sets, with Tori Hester killing everything in sight and West Rowan students chanting her name, but the home team finally fell to second-seeded West Henderson — they’re also the Falcons — in five long sets. The West Region final went to the visitors, 25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 21-25 and 17-15.

“We just made too many errors tonight, errors we haven’t been making in the playoffs,” said Hester, a senior who will sign with Troy next week. “And they were good. Whenever we made a mistake, they took advantage.”

Hester had 37 kills, 32 digs and three blocks, but it still wasn’t enough.

The first volleyball state semifinal to be played in a Rowan gym will be remembered by all who saw it, including a tremendous amount of West Henderson fans and students who made the trip to Mount Ulla. They were good. Whenever West Henderson’s America Anderson did something good, a throng chanted “USA-USA.”

“This trip wasn’t as big a factor as it might have been,” West Henderson coach Tiffany Lowrance said. “Our parents got us travel bus, so it wasn’t like we had to bring an old activity bus down here. And our student and community support was right here with us, and that support was fantastic. We’re blessed with a community that loves volleyball. Our girls play it year-round.”

West Henderson (27-6) has an awful lot of good players, a versatile and well-rounded bunch of servers, hitters, blockers and diggers surrounding Alabama-committed setter Malia Moore.

“They were better in person than they looked on film,” West coach Jan Dowling said. “We just didn’t play that great, except for Tori. KK (Dowling) was a little off and our serve-receive was way off, and when our serve-receive got off, our setter (Noe Gaeta) has to chase balls all over the gym trying to make a set.”

West Rowan got the occasional kill or block from Kelcie Love, Carly Stiller or Dowling to help Hester, but different players were taking turns pounding kills for the visitors, and they’d always find the hot hand.  Kinsley Morgan, Katrina Kordonowy, Anderson, Moore, Dajia Jackson and Caityln O’Kelly all had their turns leading the charge for West Henderson. Bailey Lance and Julia Parent made impossible digs to frustrate Hester and Dowling, and second setter Addison Hichman thumped tough serves. That’s a lot of people playing at a high level.

“We are able to mix it up,” Lowrance said. “We don’t have one or two girls to go to. But we knew West Rowan would be looking for 10 (Hester) and 5 (Dowling).”

Jackson, a springy 5-foot-11 junior middle caused the most issues for West Rowan. The film showed how high she could jump, but it was hard to see how fast she was getting there.

“She jumped quicker than we did,” Coach Dowling said. “That girl is legit, and she killed us tonight. We did everything we could to try to block her, but she got in the air so quick, the ball was just going straight down.”

Neither team could get separation in the first set, but Jackson took over when she needed to. She had the kill that put West Henderson up 22-21. At 22-all, she scored two straight. When Hester lashed one into the net, a rare error by her, West Henderson owned the first set.

The second set was tight early, but Hichman’s serves and Moore’s kills propelled West Henderson to a 15-9 lead. Hester brought West Rowan back. She had three in row to force a West Henderson timeout, with the lead down to 17-16. Gaeta’s ace made it 17-all.

West Rowan held a 23-22 lead after an ace by Ashlee Ennis, but Kordonowy ripped a fearless kill to tie it 23-all, and once again Jackson made the plays to decide the set.

West Rowan was in serious trouble — but not done.

Down most of the third set, Hester just kept hammering kills, even when she had to attack from the back row.

“They’re a team that would not give up,” said Morgan, a senior who will sign with Limestone. “Most teams, you get them down like that, they’re done.  They’re a very unconventional team, but they’re a very good team. When something isn’t working for them, they adjust, and they try something else.”

Hester’s surprise attacks from the back row changed things. Dowling got it rolling as well. At 22-all, West Rowan got a break off a ball that struck a ceiling beam. Then Carly Stiller and Hester had kills to give West Rowan the set.

Dowling, the junior outside hitter, got hot in the fourth set, driving a series of strong kills, including the one for 18-17 that put West Rowan ahead to say. She also nailed West Rowan’s 23rd, 24th and 25th points.

Now it was the turn of West Rowan fans to go berserk. It was 2-all.

“We’d made a lot of mistakes, and it was even,” Lowrance said. “But you’re going to make mistakes in this game. The thing that matters is how you respond to those mistakes, and our girls did a great job of turning things around and fighting through it in a great environment.”

West Henderson got up 9-5 in the fifth set, with some more tough serves by Hichman. West clawed back to 12-all on a kill by Dowling. Jackson sliced one around Love for a critical point and  a 13-12 lead for West Henderson. O’Kelly and Anderson teamed for the block that made it 14-12.  O’Kelly won the battle at the net with Hester on set and match point.

“Just a great, crazy match,”Lowrance said. “It could’ve gone either way.”

West Henderson cleared the regional final hurdle for the first time since 2014 and will play for the 3A state title at noon on Saturday in Fayetteville against Chapel Hill.

West Rowan settles for a 28-1 season that made school history. It was the Falcons’ first loss at home in the last two seasons.

“I hate the one loss we had was in the last one.” Coach Dowling said. “But we’ll be back. This isn’t the last time people will hear about West Rowan volleyball.”


NOTES: KK Dowling came on strong late in the match and finished with 13 kills and 19 digs. Stiller had eight kills. Love had three kills and two blocks. Gaeta had 55 assists, 18 digs and two blocks. Brooke Kennerly had seven digs. Madelyn VonCanon had 11 digs and three aces. Ennis had 14 digs and four aces.