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Visiting Fox Creek finishes with a flourish to take down Lady Knights in a five-set thriller

Posted: November 1, 2011 2:28 p.m.
Updated: November 2, 2011 5:00 a.m.

No coach is ever fully prepared to deliver that final, end of the year post-game speech when in the midst of a state playoff run.

Monday night, Andy Johnson was forced to hurriedly and, unexpectedly, come up with a talk to his North Central volleyball team following their 3-2 loss to visiting Fox Creek in the third round of the state class A playoffs.

After the two region champions split the first four games, the Lady Predators took the fifth-game tie-breaker, 15-7, to advance to tonight’s Upper State title pairing against top-ranked St. Joseph’s.

"It was all teary eyes in the locker room and, rightfully so," Johnson said of his post-match talk to his Lady Knights who suffered just their second defeat in 21 matches this season. "I was kind of speechless in there for a little while. I wasn’t prepared for this tonight. I just wasn’t prepared for that speech at the end of the season."

Playing inside The Castle, NC grabbed the early momentum in rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the opening game and closing the first contest with a 12-5 run to come away with a 25-18 victory.

With Tiffany Rogers at the service stripe for the hostesses, the Lady Knights won four straight points to help turn a 19-15 advantage into a 22-15 lead. The game closed when the Lady Predators were called for a delay of game and never got the final serve off with the score standing at 24-18.

Fox Creek turned the tables in game two, winning 25-18. The visitors were never threatened in the second half of a game which went from a 6-4 FC lead to a 21-10 spread. The Lady Knights struggled to get in sync in game two, something which Johnson could easily put his finger on when asked of his team’s downfall in the three games which they lost.

"They picked up the momentum," he said, "but I say this a lot, it’s usually the best serving and the best passing team that will win the match at the high school or college level. We struggled in both those areas tonight. It’s tough to overcome a quality team when you have those type of unforced errors."

North Central rebounded and made corrections to its game and took game three by another 25-18 count.

Leading, 9-8, NC used one of 16 Elexis Ross kills on the night to hike its lead to 10-8. Ross would later send a bullet along the near line to give the home side a 13-8 bulge before adding another unreturned shot to push the advantage to 14-8.

Fox Creek would never close the gap to less than six points in a win which was capped by an Ashley Rogers dink and a Cassady Robinson kill to put second-ranked NC within a game of a date with St. Joe’s.

Needing a win to extend the match, the Lady Predators started going to hitter Morgan Williams as much as possible in game four and she delivered with a block and a kill for points before Mickey Bell’s serve glanced off a Lady Knight as the guests jumped to an 8-4 lead, which elicited a quick time out from Johnson.

"Sometimes," he said of burning an early time out, "nerves get the best of them so, I called a time out just to settle them down. I tried to reiterate that we should be a confident team and play with confidence and make sure we do the little things."

NC came out of the break and got into a rhythm and trailed by one on four occasions, the last of those coming when Samantha Snipes hit an off-balance shot for a point which drew the Lady Knights to within 16-15. But the Lady Predators rode the efforts of Williams and Kaley Turner at the net and would use a Haley Bryant ace to go on top, 24-15, in a game which was closed with a Williams kill.

Williams continued to have her way along the front row in the tie-breaker and it was her kill which gave the guests a 6-2 lead and drew a time out from NC. Two Fox Creek points followed that break as Johnson was forced to call another time out with his team looking up at an 8-2 deficit after Bryant sent a long ace into the left corner.

The six-point deficit was as close as NC would get in a final game in which Williams had three kills and a block for points.

"We knew going in that they were going to set her and that she was one of their better players," Johnson said of Williams.

"We dug ourselves a pretty big hole in the fifth set and never really could regain our composure. They did a good job of getting the ball to number 15 (Williams.) Give them credit, they could have easily backed down and given up, but they never did. They came back and came on strong in games four and five."

Johnson said, as was the case in the game two loss, two areas doomed his team in games four and five.

"It all came back to serving and passing," he said. "I thought we did a good job of passing the ball (in game three.) We had entirely too many overpasses and balls going in to the net (in the last two games.)

"I tell our girls that we can play with anybody in the state as long as we do those two simple things. Tonight, we didn’t do the simple things from game one through game five."

Ross led NC’s hitters with 16 kills to go along with 14 digs and three aces. Setter Tiffany Rogers dished out 36 assists with six digs and a pair of aces. Madeline Pate had eight kills, three digs and a pair of aces while Snipes had four kills and three blocks. Ashley Rogers contributed 10 digs, three kills and an ace with Cassady Robinson going up for four kills, two digs and a block.

As he looked back on another memorable and a conference championship-winning season, Johnson could not help but think about his team capturing the title at its own tournament and finishing second in one at Buford, later in the season. He also recalled how, in a scrimmage, NC beat defending AAA state champion Nation Ford in a match in which a parent from Nation Ford asked a parent of a Lady Knight player where North Central was located. Not long after, Nation Ford learned about North Central.

"I remember looking up at the scoreboard about a half hour later and we had beaten them, 36-35," Johnson said in talking about his team in the just-completed season.

"Our ladies have a lot to be proud of," he added. "Our seniors did a great job in leading us. It’s just tough to have to shake off a loss in the locker room. And being number two in the state, not that it matters, but they played well. I just hate the way it ended, on this bad note, with our performance tonight."

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