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After slow start, NC rallies to take down Sabres in four sets

Posted: November 1, 2018 11:01 a.m.
Updated: November 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S RHI HENDRIX sends a shot past the outstretched arms of Southside Christian’s Claire Speaks (16) in the first set of Monday’s second round AA Upper State playoff match.

In volleyball, time outs are treated like gold bullion. You don’t haphazardly spend either of the two you are allotted in a set.

The fact that North Central head coach Andy Johnson burned a time out in the opening minutes of play in Monday’s second round AA Upper State playoff match against visiting Southside Christian spoke volumes as to how important it was for his girls to get back on steady ground.

With the Lady Knights trailing their guests, 7-0, in the opening set, Johnson called for a quick time out to regroup his girls. It took a while for NC (26-3) to settle down as the Sabres built a 22-9 advantage before holding off a furious Lady Knight rally which came up just short in a 25-23 SSC victory.

North Central made amends for its slow start by winning the next three sets, 25-23, 25-21 and 25-16, to advance to Wednesday’s third round pairing with Landrum.

After the win, Johnson was asked about calling a time out so early in the match and if it had to do with nerves.

“I hope not,” he said with a smile. “These girls have played a lot of volleyball and they shouldn’t have been nervous tonight.”

The visitors led, 8-0, when senior outside hitter Sam Speaks --- the daughter of former standout Camden High quarterback Chris Speaks --- sent a deep shot which found its way inside the line. Later, when an NC return found its way into the net, the deficit grew to 22-9.

“We made a ton of unforced errors in the first set,” Johnson said of his team’s uncharacteristic miscues.

The Lady Knights started figuring things out when it was all but too late. Still, they embarked on a furious 12-2 spree to cut the lead to 24-22 after two kills from freshman hitter Alayna Johnson. When Madison Dixon’s shot hit an SSC player and was not returned, the lead was trimmed to one only to see the Lady Sabres close the opener with a point.

Things were much closer in a second set in which the hostesses did not take the lead until a McKenna Arrants shot went unreturned for a 13-12 lead. In a back-and-forth set, the two sides were knotted at 17, 19, 20 and 21 before a pair of Sabre shots sailed wide as NC went on top, 23-21, and held on for the two-point win to even things at a set apiece.

In a third set which was a near carbon copy of the second, NC led, 12-9, when an SSC return went into the net. The visitors climbed back to put this one at level ground at 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20 and 21 before Alayna Johnson’s drop shot found the floor to put the Lady Knights on top for keeps at 22-21.

With three seat-squirmers in the books, NC and its seven full-time varsity players --- who were complemented by four jayvee call-ups --- had more left in the tank than their guests when it came to the fourth set.

Leading, 9-7, NC went on a 7-3 run which included a pair of Alayna Johnson kills as NC bumped the lead to 16-10. A dig from Tierra Preston landed for a point as the Lady Knights’ advantage grew to 19-12 and then to 20-12 when an SSC return shot went off the playing surface.

A monster kill from Alayna Johnson and kills from Arrants and Madison Dixon put this one out of reach as NC went on top to stay at 22-15.

After a slow start, Alayna Johnson had 14 digs, eight assists and a pair of blocks to go along with her season-best 27 kills. Dixon had 10 kills, nine digs and a block for the winners who received eight kills from Arrants who added a block.

Aaliyah White dished out a season-high 39 assists while adding seven figs. Peyton Holley had 17 digs, served up five aces and chipped in with a pair of kills from her Libero position. Rhi Hendrix had three kills with a trio of blocks while Preston came up with 11 digs.

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