Rallies in the third and fourth sets propelled No. 14 East seed South Johnston to a 3-1 win over No. 19 Currituck County at South in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A volleyball playoffs Saturda. Set scores were 25-15, 19-25, 25-23 and 25-21.
“For us, this could have possibly been our last game,” said South Johnston senior Dianna Boykin. “So, as a senior, I wanted to continue to be able to keep playing. That was really kind of my drive for playing today.”
South Johnston coach Matthew Adams said the Trojans responded well to being challenged in the last two sets.
“First set obviously went our way kind of easy,” Adams said. “I think they were off a little bit offensively. They got a couple of doubles (double contact violations) called on them and that can sometimes get in a setter’s head. But their offense picked up in the second, third and fourth sets, so that put more pressure on our offense to make things happen.
“Both the third and the fourth, they were ahead towards the end and I challenged my girls. I said, ‘We’ve got eight seniors on the team who this could be their last game. Do you want it to be? Stop being in your head and let’s have fun and focus on the next ball.’”
With senior Jordyn Brown limited to back row play because of an injury, fellow senior Dianna Boykin stepped up with a career performance for the Trojans (17-8), with a match-high 16 kills, and five digs.
“Huge credit to Dianna, because she was also playing out of position,” Adams said. “Jordyn’s injured and could only play back row. Luckily, we had a couple of days of practice to work on things and I’m just so proud of all of them, especially Dianna. She had to carry a very heavy load there at the end.”
“Through club ball, I’ve played right middle and right side,” Boykin said. “So, I’ve been all around. But it definitely wasn’t easy taking over for Jordyn, so I definitely wanted to make her proud.”
Sophomore Lannah Price was also a lead performer for South, recording a double-double, with 13 kills, 20 digs and two aces on 20 service points.
“(Being a go-to player with Brown out) is a big responsibility,” Price said. “But I’ll have to fill in her shoes sooner or later when she graduates. It could potentially be her last game, which is real sad, but I’ve got to be able to work harder to fill her shoes and they’re pretty big shoes to fill.”
Junior Madison Carter, with 15 assists, 10 digs and one ace on 12 service points, and senior Meagan Worley, with 12 assists and 12 digs, also had double-doubles.
Even when they weren’t directly scoring off of them, Adams cited the blocking up front from senior Caroline Tucker and sophomore Brooke Winborne as a factor for the Trojans. Tucker totaled four blocks.
“If you get a block touch, a lot of teams are going to have to scramble and not be able to get a great swing,” Adams said. “They may get a swing, but it’s probably not going to be their best swing. So, if you can do that and get a roll or a free ball, we can run our offense more efficiently. Even if the ball comes to our side, a block touch slows the ball down and gives them a better chance to play defense than a hard ball. I’ve been very pleased with both Caroline and Brooke down the stretch, just being solid up on the net. Defensively, they’ve done a great job up there.”
Laina Moore had five kills, one assist and two digs. Tucker had three kills and 10 digs. Brown had two kills, 14 digs and two aces on eight service points. Winborne had one kill and one dig. Kenzie Adams had four assists and four digs and held serve for three points. Allie Stewart had four assists and two digs and held serve for two points. Faith Collins had one assist, 12 digs and two aces on nine service points. Carter held serve for one point.
Junior Faith Pelleni had five kills and two blocks, seniors Kailey Bryant and Emma Cole had five kills apiece, junior Anna Warters had four kills and a match-high six blocks and sophomore Laura Miller had 13 assists to lead the Knights (13-11).
South took the lead early in the first set with a 7-3 run to open the match and dominated the set, leading by as much as 11, at 23-12.
Currituck opened the second set on a 7-1 run before South rallied with a 9-1 run to take the lead. The set was close until, with the score tied 15-15, the Knights went on a 10-4 run to end the set.
Late in the third set, Currituck held a 23-19 lead. But a Price kill, assisted by Carter, sparked a 6-0 South run to take the set.
Currituck led 21-15 late in the fourth set. But South rallied to finish the match with 10 unanswered points, including five kills from Boykin, four assisted by Carter and one assisted by Collins. The match ended with Boykin successfully finding the floor with a roll shot for a kill, assisted by Carter.
“I think at that point it was just adrenaline,” Boykin said. “Once I got going, it felt like I couldn’t stop.”
Price was at the service line during both the 6-0 run to end the third set and the 10-0 run to end the fourth. Adams said her serving and defense were keys in those rallies.
“Dianna showed out right there for sure, but Lannah had to get those serves in,” Adams said. “Our run is just as much about serve as it is about anything else that’s happening.”
“It’s basically just that determination to never let anything hit the ground (on defense),” Price said. “Even if you think you can’t get it, you can dive for it and about 90 percent of the time, you’ll touch it, at least. So, just give all out effort and that’s my number one thing that pushes me through on the back row is never let anything hit the floor.”
South Johnston will face a familiar foe in the second round of the playoffs. The Trojans travel to fellow Quad County 3-A Conference member No. 3 Hunt (21-4) on Tuesday. The Warriors won, 3-1, in both regular season meetings.
“The good thing is knowing what you’re up against,” Adams said. “We know how to game plan against them. We know what we have to do. We know who their best players are. So, it’s not like a guessing game where you’re searching for video online or whatever.”