Ayden-Grifton gives South Lenoir first ECC conference home loss
Ayden-Grifton's Jordan Cannon (4) looks to set up a teammate during Tuesday's contest against South Lenoir. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
DEEP RUN — Ayden-Grifton has demanded respect over the past three seasons and Tuesday could’ve possibly marked the changing of the guard.
The Chargers defeated the South Lenoir Blue Devils 25-18, 25-18, 25-10 in a matchup of Eastern Carolina Conference titans. Ayden-Grifton (8-1 overall, 1-0 ECC) finished second in the league in 2016 and won its first conference crown since 1976 last year, dropping its lone game to South Lenoir in Deep Run.
This year, the Chargers gave the Blue Devils (5-4, 1-1) just their fourth loss in ECC history — over a 50-game timespan — and the first home loss since joining the conference in 2013. The last time South Lenoir lost a home conference game, it was against Topsail in the East Central Conference on Oct. 2, 2012.
“We came here for one reason, and that’s to get the job done,” Ayden-Grifton’s Zion Hardy said. “Our passes were better (Tuesday) and our hitting was definitely on.”
The game started with a back-and-forth affair as the teams had five ties and two lead changes over the first 10 points. Tied at 7, Hardy’s kill would trigger a 6-1 run to give the Chargers separation and the Blue Devils wouldn’t get any closer than four from there.
The second set was much closer with eight ties and six lead changes. South Lenoir took a 6-4 lead after a Mallory Dawson block, but a 4-1 Ayden-Grifton run gave the Chargers the lead. Dawson would have another block to trigger a 6-1 spurt — punctuated by an Alyssa Kopanski kill — to put the Blue Devils ahead 13-9, but the Chargers scored six unanswered, including a pair of Jordan Cannon service aces, to regain control. Ayden-Grifton wouldn’t trail again, finishing the set on a Hardy kill.
After Sydney Wallace’s service ace for South Lenoir tied the third set at 2, Emily Dykes’ kill started a 7-0 run for Ayden-Grifton. The Blue Devils wouldn’t get within five for the rest of the match as the Chargers rolled.
“We came in with the mentality to win and make up for (our only conference loss) last year,” Dykes said. “We wanted to murder them and we’re hoping to do the same thing (in the rematch at home Sept. 27.)”
Ayden-Grifton coach Linda Bryant said the passion from the last game — a 25-8, 25-11, 25-9 thrashing of North Pitt Aug. 30 — carried on to Tuesday.
“It all started last week and I’ve seen them play even better (Tuesday),” Bryant said. “I challenged them in the third set to hold (South Lenoir) to 10 or less and try to make a statement. They’ve got the talent, but it’s about coming out and playing that way all the time — the box score matters and when other schools see it, you want them to think ‘oh no, Ayden-Grifton is really doing something.’ We just have to keep playing to the level we’re able to.”
South Lenoir coach Lisa Smith said the team will move on to its next opponent.
“We’re going to come out and work better as a team,” Smith said. “We changed our lineup three times and worked on some things (in this game) and when we played together, we did well. We just have to play more consistently the whole game.”
Ayden-Grifton will host Washington Thursday while South Lenoir takes on West Craven on the road the same day.