Vike Netters Nip Pats in Round 2
Union Pines picked up a hard-fought, five-set victory against Pinecrest in a compelling cross-county volleyball match Wednesday at Bob Ward Gymnasium in Cameron.
The 23-25, 25-23, 27-25, 22-25 and 15-12 nonconference win for the homestanding Vikings (14-1) was their second over county rival Pinecrest (12-4) this season.
Cross-County Volleyball: PHS at UPHS
Union Pines topped the Pinecrest Patriots in a hard-fought, five-set cross-county classic Wednesday Night in Cameron. It was the second time the teams met this season with the Vikings winning a competitive four-set match last week (WED, SEPT. 14) at Pinecrest. Photos by Philip Taylor
After the match, Union Pines head coach Leslie Fish was struck by the high level of effort exerted by both teams in the ultra-competitive contest.
“I’m just happy we won today,” said Fish. “We gave it all we had in the tank but this Pinecrest team played their hearts out too.
“Both teams wanted this one so badly and you could see that in the play during every point, which makes it even more special. To be able to pull out a victory in such a tough game, against a really good, well-coached Pinecrest team with a really solid big hitter in Felicia Painter is a big deal.”
In the back-and-forth battle, Painter helped the visiting Patriots get out to an early 12-6 lead in the opening game of the match. The Pinecrest junior middle hitter had five kills and two blocks in the first set, to help her squad squeak out a 25-23 win.
Union Pines answered with a 25-23 victory in set two, behind some strong net play in the middle from sisters Crystal and Tiffany Hicks. Crystal, a senior captain, had four kills in the set — including a major slam down late that gave her team a set point at 24-23. Younger sister Tiffany, a sophomore middle hitter, had two blocks and two kills in the set.
According to Fish, her Union Pines squad has made it a habit to start shaky in important matches this season.
“It just seems characteristic for us to come into a big game and usually open flat,” she said. “I think it is just their jitters though. After we won game two (tonight) I told them, ‘You got your jitters out now, so let’s play,’ and they responded well from there.”
The Hicks sisters again figured huge in set three, as did Vike senior captain and setter Morgan Bridgers. Crystal Hicks provided steady production throughout the set, tallying five kills and three digs.
Still, Union Pines trailed 20-17 and was down a set point at 25-24. Bridgers then made a clutch assist on a kill by Brittany Erickson. Next, Tiffany Hicks gave the Vikings a set point by delivering a big block.
Bridgers tallied eight assists, three digs and two kills in the set, while Tiffany Hicks registered three blocks and three kills.
That momentum carried into set four, as the home team rushed out to leads of 8-3 and 18-11. After forcing a side out, Pinecrest responded.
Patriot sophomore Rae Nunez went on a four-point service run, to cut the margin to 18-16. From there Union Pines secured a 21-16 margin, only to see the visiting Patriots storm back in scoring nine of the last 10 points to take the set, and force the fifth and deciding set.
“After that run we made to come back and win the third set, I thought the air was going to be out of Pinecrest,” said Fish. “But they turned around in game four and did the same thing to us. Before the last set, I talked to my girls about it being the same thing that happened to us in our loss against Western Harnett.”
The Vikes’ only loss of the season came to Western Harnett in a five-set 3-A Cape Fear Valley Conference match. The visiting Eagles took control of the deciding set early and did not look back on the way to a 15-6 fifth-set win.
“My girls remember how they felt when Western whipped us in that fifth game,” Fish said, “So I told them, ‘OK, you’ve got another chance right back here at your home to not let it happen again,’ and they listened too.
“We broke that last set into fives — it’s a race to five three times — I think when we do it in increments like that it keeps the girls focused.”
Union Pines won the first race to grab a 5-2 lead and took the second as well with the set standing at 10-7. However, Pinecrest had one final flurry left, as it cut the margin to 11-10 when Painter powered a kill. Ultimately, the Vikes took that third race too, as the final tally was 15-12 in Union Pines’ favor.
After the match, Tiffany Hicks, who finished with nine kills and eight blocks, spoke about what the win meant to the Vikings as they look to move forward.
“Tonight makes me feel really excited about us going back and playing Western Harnett again,” said Hicks. “Also, it let us know that we can beat anybody if we play like we did against Pinecrest in this match.”
Currently, Union Pines is 5-1 at the midpoint of the CFVC regular season — locked in a three-way tie with Western Harnett and Overhills for the league’s top spot.
Crystal Hicks led the Vikings with 17 kills. After the match, she was a proud senior captain and older sister.
“It feels so good to sweep Pinecrest,” she said. “I know last year we had a tough match against them and we just had to come out this year strong in both games. This match was very up-and-down, but we had to just pull it together and it feels so good.
“Tiffany was amazing and it feels great to see her step it up and play like that. I know I am hard on her sometimes but she puts up with me, and to see her have that kind of success makes me really proud of her.”
Bridgers put forth another amazing all-around effort in the match, finishing with 35 assists, 10 digs, six kills and two aces.
Overall, Union Pines team had six players register five or more kills on the night, as Anna Sadler tallied six, Kelsey Troyer finished with five and Erickson had eight. Lexi Byrd led Union Pines with 13 digs.
Painter totaled a match-high 23 kills on the night along with seven blocks for Pinecrest. Also registering double-digit totals for the Pats was Amber Goodwin with 12 kills and Callie Boone, who was credited with 11 assists.
Megan Thomas led the Patriots in assists with 22 and Nunez tallied a match-high 16 digs.
Union Pines returns to action Tuesday in a critical league clash at Overhills. Pinecrest was scheduled to travel to Hoke County for a match Thursday.
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