Harnett Central’s varsity volleyball team finished up the first half of the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference season with a 3-1 win at Harnett County rival Triton on Thursday. Individual set scores were 25-14, 19-25, 25-17 and 25-23.
“Our middles right now are the ones scoring the ball,” said Harnett Central assistant Ashley Gaines, “And our last game against Southern Lee Syniah (McMiller) had 18 kills, so our game plan was feed Syniah the ball.”
“They did a good job taking us out of our system there a little bit,” added Harnett Central coach Chelsey Cabe. “Which is why we struggled to make passes and then we were getting a little winded here and there. They made really smart plays, so we had to learn to deal with their unpredictability and keep our feet moving.”
Cabe is the Trojans head coach, but Gaines does the bulk of the in-game coaching. Gaines is the daughter of Triton coach Wendy Simmons and is a former standout at the setter position for Triton.
“I told (Gaines) she’s on the good side now,” quipped Cabe.
“I was nervous,” Gaines said. “Not necessarily about the play or anything, but just coming back to where you literally spent your whole life growing up. I think it should speak wonders of Mom more than anything. Everything I know is because of her. But it does feel good to beat her at her home court. It shows the progress the girls have made. When they came here last year, Triton swept them 3-0. So, it was good to see them come in here and take charge and do what they did.”
Simmons was pleased to see her daughter doing well.
“I’m happy for her. Definitely,” Simmons said. “I don’t take losing as hard as I used to. I changed a lot of things in my life and that’s one of them. It’s not about winning all the time. I’m happy for her. They started off struggling a little bit there in the season (Central started 0-2 before winning four straight matches). I had some long talks with her, but she’ll be fine.”
Simmons said the Hawks (2-3, 2-3) were lacking consistency.
“We just need some consistency,” Simmons said. “I just hope we find it before we do ourselves in and we can’t make the playoffs. We probably already have, but hopefully we can finish strong and our goal would be to win out from this point forward. Just see what happens. I probably have four JV players from last year out there playing quite a bit. And they’re improving every practice. Not maybe every set, but they’re getting better.”
Senior Syniah McMiller had 20 kills and three blocks, both match-high totals, to lead the Trojans (4-2, 4-1 TCSC).
Cabe and Gaines were pleased with the effort of both Harnett Central setters. Sophomore Carlie Love had 22 assists, eight digs and one ace on 11 service points and junior Carlee Harrell had nine assists and 10 digs.
“They work hard in practice and they’ve really stepped up these last few games to get the right people the ball,” Gaines said.
Senior libero Laurie Blackwell led the Trojans defensively, with 25 digs and senior Kayla Sadowski led all servers with three aces on 12 service points.
“Being a defensive player, you don’t get a lot of credit,” Cabe said. “Tonight wasn’t Laurie’s best night, but even on a night that’s not Laurie’s best, we could not do what we do without her as the libero. You don’t get as much credit there, but it all starts with that pass and I think Laurie does a great job of running that back line. And one thing about Kayla tonight, especially during that first set, she does a great job of keeping us going with a serve.”
Ivanna Jones had six kills, one block, three digs and two aces on four service points. Sinai Avalos Beltran had six kills, seven digs and two aces on seven service points. Harper Howell had four kills, one assist, one block and 14 digs and held serve for eight points. Harrell had one kill and held serve for four points. Sadowski had one assist and five digs. McMiller had three digs. Blackwell had three aces on six service points.
For the first time since her freshman year, Triton (2-3, 2-3) senior Gracyn Slaughter started at outside hitter instead of libero. She responded by leading the team with 11 kills and 19 digs for a double-double.
“I knew I needed Gracyn on the floor all the time,” Simmons said. “I knew that. But it just wasn’t working where she was playing. Her stats weren’t where they really needed to be as a libero, so we knew we needed to make a change. She’s strong. She’s going to develop, I think, more into a smart hitter. For that to be her first time hitting outside since her freshman year, I can’t complain. She did exactly what I needed and I was proud of her.”
Junior Makayla Norris also responded well to a position change, starting at libero for the first time and recording a match-high 19 digs and two aces on nine service points. Simmons was also pleased with the energy level she brought to the court.
“I wish they all had her energy,” Simmons said. “She’s always moving. She’s always talking. You can definitely tell that she loves playing this sport. It’s enjoyable to watch people like that. The change we made, we’ll continue with it and hopefully we’ll just keep seeing benefits from it on down the road.”
Bethany Norris had nine kills, one block and one ace on six service points. Carleigh Hemby had eight kills. Korra Altman had four kills, six digs and one ace on seven service points. Reagan Bradham had one kill, a match-high 31 assists and nine digs and held serve for four points. Breonna McNeill had one kill, one block and six digs. Sydney Morrison had one assist and nine digs and held serve for seven points. Makayla Norris had one assist. Chelby Pascale had three digs. Slaughter had two aces on six service points.
Central came out hot in the first set. After a Slaugther kill, assisted by Morrison, gave Triton an initial 1-0 lead, the Trojans responded with 10 unanswered points, including five kills and two blocks from McMiller. Central held a lead of at least six the rest of the set.
“We tell Syniah every day before practice and before every game she’s got to lead the pack,” Gaines said. “She’s got the ability to lead and when she starts off like that, everybody follows right behind her.”
The second set was tied 13-13 when back-to-back Altman kills, both assisted by Bradham, started an 11-2 run to bring Triton to set point. Central held off four set points before a Slaughter kill, assisted by Bradham, tied the match 1-1.
The third set was Central’s turn for a late run. With the score tied 12-12, a McMiller kill, assisted by Love, sparked a 13-5 run to close out the set for the Trojans.
The fourth set was close all the way down to the end. With the score tied 23-23, a Howell kill and a Jones kill, both assisted by Harrell, gave Central the set and the match.
Triton won the junior varsity match 2-0.
Both teams start the second half of conference play at home on Tuesday. Harnett Central hosts unbeaten conference leader Union Pines (5-0, 5-0) for Senior Night and Triton hosts Lee County (0-5, 0-5).