Things like this happen when you are on a roll. And no team is rolling along any better than the North Central volleyball squad.
How else would you explain the Lady Knights double-stroke of good luck on Monday?
As if a 3-0 win over visiting Chesnee in the second round of the AA Upper State tournament was not good enough, Andy Johnson’s charges learned a few minutes later that Crescent knocked off Region 3 champion Mid-Carolina in five sets. The latter victory assured North Central of returning home to The Castle for tonight’s Upper State semifinal against visiting Crescent at 6 p.m.
In the other half of the bracket, Andrew Jackson traveled to meet Region 1 champion Liberty on Tuesday in a match pushed back one evening by non-athletic circumstances. Should both Liberty and NC win, the AA Upper State championship match will be played in Liberty on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. The Lady Knights will host the Upper State finale should Andrew Jackson upend Liberty.
The hostesses improved to 20-0 on the season in taking down the visiting Eagles, 25-10, 25-21 and 25-12. The only real threat of the evening came in the second set in which Chesnee took advantage of several NC errors to stay within striking distance. The odd-numbered sets, though, were all Lady Knights.
Always the perfectionist, Johnson said his team still has room for improvement, as evidenced by their play in the second set.
"We performed well in the first set and had a couple unforced errors in the second set that hurt us," said Johnson after the win and before knowing the result of the Crescent at Mid-Carolina pairing. "If we can minimize our unforced errors, we can play with the best of them. I was proud of our girls for being focused. We came back in that third set and cleaned it up a bit with better ball control.
"It was a good win for us. Everybody got a chance to play a little bit today. We’re just excited to have another chance to play (tonight.)"
Briefly, this one looked as if it would go longer that the minimum three sets as the visitors scored the first two points of the night only to have NC roar back with an 8-0 run with senior Madeline Pate on the service stripe. Playing a key role in the surge was senior outside hitter Erin Humphries, who had two of her 11 kills in the match come in the opening run.
NC extended its lead to double digits when middle hitter Ambi Wood’s slam glanced off the hands of a Chesnee defender to raise the score to 15-5. The closest the guests would come from that point was 19-9. But a Deja Linton block would hike the advantage to 20-10.
Johnson said he did not know much about Chesnee (12-13), which split its two pairings with Liberty in the regular season. What he did say that he was not so much worried about what the Eagles or any other NC opponent, for that matter, does as much as he concerns himself with his own team playing to their expected level.
"I tell our girls, with no disrespect to the other team," he said, "that the least of our concerns are with what the other team does. We want to worry about what we do and make sure we are doing it well.
"That, really, is the only thing we focus on. As silly as it sounds, in the game of volleyball, whether you are playing against an elementary school, a college team or, the national team, the game of volleyball is about controlling the ball when it’s on your side of the court."
Chesnee made this match interesting after rallying back from a 21-16 deficit to close to within 24-21 before a Wood kill gave the Lady Knights a 2-0 edge in sets.
Coming up short in the second set seemed to take the wind out of the Eagle sails as NC used an 11-0 run to turn a 2-3 deficit onto a 13-3 lead as Johnson went to his bench as a mix of reserves and starters kept this one from becoming competitive as the Lady Knights led, 21-6, at one point.
As has been their M.O. all season, the Lady Knights were able to spread the wealth statistically.
Pate, had a double-double with 10 kills and 10 digs while adding an assist and an ace. Humphries had 11 kills and nine digs while Wood had a match-best 12 kills to go along with six digs, two assists and a block.
Sophomore setter Logan Coates doled out 28 assists with nine digs three aces and a trio of kills. Junior middle hitter Gracen Kerr was a force along the net with five kills, two blocks and six digs.
While everyone Johnson sends on the court is producing, at this stage of the season, the Lady Knights are leaning on their trio of seniors and, returning AA All-State players in Humphries, Pate and Wood.
"They’re well-seasoned and experienced," Johnson said of his Big Three. "I told them that when they step on the court to make sure some of that confidence spreads to some of the younger players to settle some of their butterflies down."