High school volleyball playoffs: Ennis’ energy sparks Falcons

Published 11:55 pm Sunday, October 24, 2021

By Mike London


MOUNT ULLA — As often happens in the state playoffs, the opposing teams were strangers, feeling each other out in the West Rowan gym on Saturday afternoon.

“Playing someone you haven’t seen before can be a lot of fun,” West Rowan setter Noe Gaeta said. “We’re trying to figure out what they have and they’re trying to figure us out.”

West Rowan Ashlee Ennis doesn’t look scary and is seriously undersized for an outside hitter at 5-foot-5, but she was hitting well-placed rockets and had the West Iredell Warriors convinced she was the person they had to stop.

The junior brought all kinds of energy to the floor. Ennis had 14 kills and 20 digs to spark the Falcons to a 25-17, 25-16 and 25-19 victory in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.

Ennis has been a defensive specialist most of her career, but she’s hitting this season for the first time.

She’s third on West’s team in kills and has nearly as many kills as intimidating 6-foot sophomore Emma Clarke.

“I’m not very big and I’m not very powerful,” Ennis said. “I don’t have a powerful swing like Emma or Kelcie (Love).  I’ve got to hit it with everything I have and hit it to the right spots.”

Ennis was hitting so many right spots that 30th-seeded West Iredell (6-13) adjusted its defense to try to deal with her.

“They all started leaning toward Ashlee and they started doubling up on her and trying to block her,” said Love, a 5-foot-11 senior who has 100 more kills than any of her teammates. “That opened things up for me and our other hitters. Maybe we underestimated West Iredell some to start with, but then we saw how good some of their players were, and we picked it up.”

It wasn’t a breezy match for third-seeded West Rowan (25-2), although the Falcons did win their 16th in a row.

West Iredell was still hanging around in the first set, down 19-15, when West Rowan coach Jan Dowling got a timeout.

West came out of that timeout looking for Love in all the right places and finding her. Love had kills for 20-16 and 21-16, and the Falcons were back in control. She ended the set with an ace.

“We stayed calm the entire game, whether we were playing really well or not,” Ennis said. “This is is a pretty calm team that doesn’t get riled up much.”

It was 16-all in the second set before West finally achieved some separation. Madilyn VonCanon had an ace, the visitors made a couple of errors, and Love and Clarke teamed for a key block. Love had kills for 23-19 and 24-19, as the Falcons put the set away.

“West Iredell didn’t have a great record, but we thought they would be pretty good and they were,” Ennis said. “They play in a super-strong conference.”

Clarke had a couple of emphatic kills early in the third set, and West’s lead swelled to 13-6 and then to 18-8.

Dowling got a lot of people into the game down the stretch, but the kills kept coming from Clarke and Love.

“We picked each other up when we weren’t playing all that well,” Gaeta said. “And we had some fun out there. We’re at out best when everyone is having fun.”

While West Rowan didn’t dominate, the Falcons also never seemed to be in serious jeopardy of an upset. When things weren’t flowing, Dowling simply went to the bench and tried someone else.

“We’ve got some depth and we’ve got some competition, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said. “Spots aren’t automatic. Anyone can get pulled at any time if they don’t bring their best.”

Love had 16 kills and five blocks. Clarke had nine kills and two blocks. Gaeta had 34 assists and 10 digs. Libero Brooke Kennerly had 17 digs. Kenadi Sproul had nine digs.

“Kenadi had a very good day,” Dowling said. “She was all over the floor.”

Next for West on Tuesday is a home game against 14th-seeded Hickory (14-9), which played in the same conference as West Iredell. Hickory swept North Buncombe.