Hawks down Devils in regular season volleyball finale for both squads
North Lenoir’s Kennedy Sullivan goes up for a serve during Thursday’s contest against South Lenoir. Photo by William ‘Bud’ Hardy / Neuse News
DEEP RUN — Thursday’s volleyball contest between rivals brought in a myriad of emotions.
For North Lenoir, the feeling was euphoria after defeating South Lenoir 25-18, 25-20, 25-14 in the team’s first season sweep of South Lenoir since 2012. The Hawks (16-4, 9-3 Eastern Carolina 2A) lost eight of their previous 10 meetings with the Blue Devils (10-9, 6-5) from 2013 through 2017, but added a victory Thursday along with the one from Oct. 12.
“I’m very proud of all of the girls,” North Lenoir coach Heather Carson said. “The defense is there, we’re hitting the ball in all of the right spots and we’re making plays all around.”
North Lenoir scored the game’s first two points, but South Lenoir went on a 4-0 run highlighted by a Sydney Wallace service ace and Kenly Hardison kill. The Hawks recovered, going up 12-8 after a Gabby Stallings kill. While the Blue Devils tied it at 14 after another Wallace ace, North Lenoir went on a 4-0 run and never looked back, closing the set on Paytyn Jones’ ace.
South Lenoir took an early 7-4 lead in the second set after a Sara Beth Stroud service ace, but North Lenoir struck back with an 8-2 run — highlighted by a kill and block from Paula Mason, along with a Melanie Gallardo ace — to take control. South Lenoir got within 23-20, but Jones responded with a kill and an ace to end it.
“We really came together, worked as a team and we didn’t have any breakdowns,” Mason said.
The Blue Devils came out firing in the third set, starting with a pair of Allie Parker service aces and adding a kill from Stroud and three aces from Wallace on the way to a 7-1 start. The Hawks responded and three straight Jones aces put the team ahead 12-10. South Lenoir scored the next two to tie the game, but North Lenoir finished with a 13-2 run to set up momentum for the postseason.
“I think we can go pretty far in the playoffs as long as we stick together and keep playing how we’ve been playing,” Jones said.
On the other side of the spectrum, South Lenoir’s Senior Night had a somber tone. On the court, the Blue Devils had their fewest wins in a season since 2011 and dropped six conference games this year — two more than the previous five combined in the ECC.
South Lenoir coach Lisa Smith said the nine seniors on the team — Hardison, Parker, Wallace, Noelle Corwin, Toni Foster, Keelin Howard, Candace Pierce, Samantha Sutton and D’Angel Williams — had great accomplishments on and off the court, including a pair of conference championships.
“It’s been a hard year for everyone, but these senior worked hard for four seasons,” Smith said. “They’ve got a lot to offer the world and they’ve fought through everything. We just needed to be a little more consistent this season.”
Wallace said it was a bit of a slow start, but the team gradually got stronger.
“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t really playing as a team, but we kept working harder and doing it for the One who gives us the ability,” Wallace said.
During Senior Night, South Lenoir honored Jessica Ramsey, who was killed Feb. 7. Ramsey, who would’ve played on the Blue Devils’ team as a senior, was a strong presence for the community, especially the volleyball team.
“We lost an important teammate, who was not just a good hitter, passer and motivator, but a good person,” Foster said. “She helped us through losses, wins and personal problems — she was the mother of our team. She was very hard-working and played a great role.”
Parker said the team wanted to show its resiliency, even with the loss of a loved one.
“With what we went through it could’ve been a lot worse, but we pushed through,” Parker said. “We knew Jessica was always there for us and we came together even closer as a family.”
North Lenoir and South Lenoir will find out their playoff fates Monday.