U.P. Netters Get Playoff Win
All season long, one of the Lady Vikings' team goals has been to host a NCHSAA 3A volleyball opening round playoff match.
That goal became a reality Friday at Bob Ward Gymnasium. Union Pines defeated the Southern Guilford Storm (16-7, Mid-Piedmont third-seed) in four sets for the first Viking volleyball state playoff victory since 2006.
Union Pines came out a bit tight at the start of the postseason tilt, falling behind 17-10 in the opening game. Although the Vikings dropped that set 25-22, they began to match the visiting Storm shot for shot to gain some much needed momentum.
In the second game, Union Pines used that surge to power its way to a 25-13 win and tie the match at 1-1. Then the Vikes toughed out a critical third game, in which they saw an 18-13 lead cut to 22-21. But two consecutive kills by junior captain Crystal Hicks helped the Lady Vikes take the set 25-21.
From there, Union Pines cruised in the fourth game for a 25-10 win to stamp its ticket to Tuesday’s second round of the NCHSAA 3A state volleyball tournament.
Hicks had a monster night for Union Pines finishing with 15 kills, nine digs, two aces and two blocks.
“It feels so good to get this match,” said Hicks. “As a team, we started off shaky but then we pulled together and began playing our game, because we worked really hard all season for this chance. So it just feels so good — especially after our first round playoff loss last year — it feels really, really good.”
Last season, the Vikings went on the road as the Cape Fear Valley Conference third seed where they fell in straight sets to Chapel Hill in the opening round. Prior to that, Union Pines lost an opening round five-set playoff match on the road back in 2007, as the CFVC four-seed, to Bartlett Yancey despite having seven match points that would have earned them a major 3-1 upset.
Three Vike underclassmen played big roles in Union Pines’ 22-25, 25-13, 25-21, 25-10 playoff victory on Friday.
Sophomore Brittany Erickson collected four aces on top of 16 digs, and three assists for Union Pines.
“When you get behind early like we did, then as a team you want to get back up as fast as you can and shut your opponent down,” Erickson said. “Tonight I think it was our will to win that made the biggest difference.”
At the net, freshman Tiffany Hicks had six blocks and five kills, while sophomore sensation Tyler Ross finished with 11 kills, six blocks, seven digs, and two aces. Ross also spoke about Union Pines’ season-long goal of hosting a home playoff game after the match.
“This one of the first postseason playoff games played here (at Union Pines) in a long time,” she said, “so we wanted to win this one really bad after we had worked all year to get to this point. To win in front of all our fans here makes this win feel extra special.”
The Lady Vikings earned their first round home match on Thursday by claiming a five-set victory against Overhills in a playoff for the CFVC second seed at Western Harnett. Ross had 14 kills, seven blocks, four aces and 10 digs in that tilt, while Union Pines’ junior captain Morgan Bridgers totaled 23 assists.
Bridgers finished with 23 assists again on Friday night to go along with six digs and four kills.
“We really wanted this game bad,” Bridgers said. “It seems like we are peaking at the right time as a team so even though we did not get off to a great start we pulled together as a team like we have been doing all season. So it felt great to be able to come out of an early hole tonight and end up pounding them (Southern Guilford).
For fifth-year head coach Leslie Fish, the victory was her third in the postseason at the helm for Union Pines. In 2006, her team made it through to the third round of the state playoffs. After Friday’s win, Fish spoke about how proud she was of her entire team.
“I am so pleased with the way my girls responded again tonight,” Fish said. “They have matured a great deal this season and have so much fight in them, they simply have the mindset of refusing to let up and that showed in their play tonight.
“This win feels awesome — it’s the only way to describe it. We dropped the first set again just like we did Thursday in the Overhills’ match, but from then on, I kept telling them to just do it. That is just what they did too, coming up big yet again and pulling this one out with a great deal of passion and determination.”
With the victory, Union Pines (16-6) is riding a five-match winning streak, and has won eight of its last nine contests. The Lady Vikings face Cardinal Gibbons (16-2, Carolina top-seed) Tuesday evening in Raleigh.
Contact F.W. Manning II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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