There is an old sports adage about how tough it is to beat the same team three times in one season.
Nobody learned that lesson any harder than did the North Central volleyball team which was eliminated from the AA Upper State tournament in a 3-1 loss to rival Andrew Jackson in a match played in front of an overflow crowd at the AJ gym in Kershaw on Monday night.
The loss capped an 18-3 season for Andy Johnson’s second-ranked squad which breezed to the Region 3-AA title while having defeated its nearby rival, AJ, twice with a pair of 3-1 victories.
On this night, it would be Lady Volunteers who got off to a quick start in winning the first set, 25-21, before NC evened things by taking the second in convincing fashion, 25-13.
The hostesses rallied back and overcame a 23-19 deficit to win the third set, 26-24, before closing this one out with a 25-23 victory in the fourth set which led to the AJ faithful storming the court after their team had advanced to tonight’s AA Upper State finals.
AJ will stay home for tonight’s match with Ninety-Six, a 3-1 winner over Crescent on Monday. The AA Lower State final will have Waccamaw traveling to meet Bishop England for the right to play in Saturday’s 1 p.m. state championship at White Knoll High School.
As for Monday’s pairing in Kershaw, Johnson said the match was played in a raucous environment. He also said his team picked a bad night to not be on the top of their game.
“It was a great atmosphere at Andrew Jackson and our fan support was unbelievable,” said the NC head coach.
“We didn’t play our best. We had stretches where we had entirely too many unforced errors. I would like to give Andrew Jackson credit as they played well.”
The Lady Knights received a trio of double-doubles in the setback including a 24-dig, 16-kill night from junior outside hitter Madeline Pate. Fellow junior outside hitter Erin Humphries had 15 digs while 13 of her kills hit the floor. Both had a service ace in the match.
Freshman setter Logan Coates dished out 34 assists to get the NC offense in gear while coming up with 24 digs. She also had a pair of aces and a kill. Junior Libero Rachel Robinson, again, led the guests with 26 digs and had an ace while junior middle hitter Ambi Wood contributed 13 kills to go along with four digs, a block and an ace.
Jo Phillips, one of three seniors on the squad, had 14 digs, three aces and a kill.
Johnson said losing in the third round and to his team’s most bitter rival was a tough way to end a season in which the Lady Knights won their own Carolina Challenge and Buford’s Best in the Nest tournaments in the regular season while being runner-up in the Sumter Spike-Off. All those events came before NC finished 10-0 in conference matches for the program’s seventh consecutive region championship.
“We can look back on the season and be proud of how well we played,” Johnson said. “Our team had a great season. I am proud of their effort, dedication and hard work.”
NC trio earn All-State accolades: Following the completion of the season, Johnson announced that three of his team’s juniors, Humphries, Pate and Wood, were selected to the AA All-State squad as selected by the South Carolina Volleyball Coaches Association.