BOONVILLE - The intense volleyball rivalry between Starmount and North Surry added another chapter Saturday night in the 2A state quarterfinals.
Behind a rowdy blue-and-orange clad crowd at home, the Rams jumped out to a 2-0 lead and looked poised to roll past their bitter rivals. But the Greyhounds dug deep and reeled off wins in three-straight games to pull the upset and leave Starmount stunned.
After falling behind by two games, North blew out the Rams in the third set, 25-9, before rallying from a 24-20 hole in the fourth game to force a decisive fifth set. In the final game, the Hounds scored the final five points to close out their rivals 15-10 to advance to the state semifinals.
“That was a match of missed opportunities,” head coach Jon Symons said. “You go up 2-0, we were talking during the interchange that you can’t take breaks and you can’t take a point off. We came out and we were down early, we were down deep early. And tried to fight back, but we just couldn’t get it done.
“And then to go to game four and be up 24-20 and have opportunities, we just couldn’t get it done,” he continued. “Then in game five, we had chances to keep it to where we had chances at the end and we just had too many mistakes.
“It is frustrating and heart-breaking. It’s an end to a good season but you have a feeling of disappointment for what has gone on with this team. Going deeper in the state playoffs, we became more and more invested. It’s a tough one,” Symons added.
The fireworks started early on as the two 2A powerhouses traded blows reminiscent of a heavyweight boxing match.
Starmount opened on a 2-0 run and held an 8-6 advantage early. But North remained close as the teams battled to a 13-13 tie.
Later in the opening set, the Rams flexed their muscles and grabbed a 19-16 lead, leading to a Greyhound timeout. Coming out of the break, North scored the next three points to tie things up at 19-all.
With the game still tied at 24-24, Erin Barr smacked a service ace for the Rams before Haley Hartman’s ensuing kill was blocked out of bounds to give Starmount an early 1-0 advantage.
North came out on fire in the second game, jumping out to a 7-2 lead, leading to a Ram timeout.
Starmount responded and scored seven of the next nine points to tie the set at 9-9. Later in the game, a long rally point was finally killed by Ashton Gregory to give the Rams a 13-11 lead in a momentum-changing play.
From there, Starmount outscored North 12-7 to win the set 25-18 to grab a 2-0 match advantage.
With the opportunity to sweep their rivals, the Rams seemingly fell asleep in the third game as the Hounds came out on fire.
North opened on an 8-3 run and grabbed a 17-6 lead to silence the rowdy crowd. The Greyhounds never let Starmount recover, easily coasting to a 25-9 victory to stay alive.
In the fourth, North once again came out strong, grabbing an 8-3 lead. But the Rams once again battled back as Starmount’s anchor Gregory led the way to tie things up at 16-all.
Later in the set, the Rams scored five-straight points to grab a 24-20 lead and push the Hounds to the brink.
But North scored the final six points of the set to force the decisive fifth set with a 26-24 victory.
In the final game, the Greyhounds bounced back from a slow start to tie things up at 8-8 and 10-all. North reeled off the final five points to pull off the improbable comeback to advance in the 2A state playoffs.
Starmount’s season ends at 28-4, while the Hounds advance to take on Polk County in the state semis this week.
The loss was the end of stellar high school careers for Gregory, Josie Matthews, Sydney Caudle and Rachel Wagoner.
“This was a hard loss, especially for these seniors who have had so much success,” Symons said. “Ashton is obviously a great player. When she came in her freshman year, our joke is when we would give her the ball back then, I used to gringe, and by the end of her freshman year, I used to scream “give her the damn ball!” That in and of itself tells you about Ashton. She worked really hard to get where she is now and we obviously can’t replace her.
“We are going to miss Rachel, Josie and Sydney as well. Josie was a member of our 2010 state championship team but she’s played this whole year on basically a torn ACL,” he continued. “That’s a kid who has showed commitment to this program. Sydney has developed into a nice defensive player and Rachel has developed into a great right side for us.
“We were excited all year for what we had, and when we started getting people back from injuries, we just started rolling. You don’t often put 26-straight wins together - it was the longest win streak I’ve had,” Symons added. “In a lot of aspects it’s been a great season, and in other aspects, with Meme and the end of the season, it’s been terrible.”
Symons said he hoped the girls learned life lessons, not just volleyball lessons, with what the team endured with the passing of former player Meme Brown.
“Nothing is ever going to replace Meme. But I thought the girls learned a lot this year, not just about volleyball, but about life in general,” he said. “You hope they learned volleyball lessons, but also they learned life lessons, and our eyes got opened pretty wide with Meme’s passing. I think maybe death was an abstract concept to a lot of them and now it became a reality.
“They had teammates to fall back on. And if these girls can take that from this season and learn from that, then I’m pr0ud of them. Volleyball-wise, we accomplished a lot of goals we set out to accomplish. But our top goal, we’re not going to be able to,” Symons added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.