Wilkes Central and North Wilkes were neck and neck through three thrilling matches Tuesday evening in Hays.
But just when one team put the pedal to the metal in the fourth set, the other ran out of gas.
The Eagles ultimately prevailed, claiming a pivotal third set to best the Vikings 3-1 in Mountain Valley Athletic Conference action.
The fourth set ended the night, as the Eagles won 25-12. But it was the third set that determined Central’s first conference win of the fall.
With the match tied at 1-1, Wilkes Central broke out to a quick 10-6 advantage in game number three when libero Morgan Johnson delivered a kill from the back row.
But, as they had done all night, the Vikings fought back to close to within one point, at 24-23.
Hayley Parker ended the potential rally on the next point, however, sending in an off-speed shot that found the floor and gave her Eagles a 25-23 set win.
“We did a good job closing sets tonight, especially in the third,” said Eagles Head Coach Kevin Anderson, whose team improved to 4-3 and 1-1 in the Mountain Valley. “(North Wilkes Head Coach Samantha Smith) does a very good job with her team, and we knew they would not go away, even when we took the lead. They are a scrappy, tough group of kids.”
“We play well when we get behind,” smiled Smith. “And that’s not a bad thing, obviously. But we need to start sets with the kind of runs we know we can end sets with.”
Anderson credited a tough nonconference schedule with creating the fortitude his Eagles showed Tuesday night.
“All of our matches so far have been pretty close. I think we just learned over the course of the nonconference schedule how to get over the hump,” said Anderson.
Wilkes Central (4-3, 1-1) claimed set one 25-20. The Eagles were ahead 18-14 after an ace from Madison German, but the Vikings broke serve to climb back to three.
North’s Makayla Cornelius took over on serve, and helped her team go on a run. A kill from McKenzie Johnson and a win at the net from Savannah Royall cut the deficit to one, and after a Central timeout Cornelius delivered a set-tying ace.
One more point, after an unforced Central error, momentarily gave North Wilkes the lead, but an off-speed shot by the Eagles’ Karlie Anderson broke serve and gave the ball back to the visitors.
Zoe Mathis took over on serve, and the Eagles regained the lead with a subsequent miscue charged to the Vikings. A block by Jacklyn Richardson made it 21-19, forcing a timeout from Smith.
But Mathis wasn’t deterred. She responded to the stoppage with two straight aces before serving long on her next chance.
North Wilkes couldn’t take advantage though, as Central got the ball back after a kill by Richardson. And the first set ended at 25-20 when the Vikings couldn’t return the serve of Christa Walsh.
The Vikings (6-2, 1-1) fared better in set two, though again it wasn’t easy. The Eagles stormed ahead by as much as six, at 17-11, and led by five as late as 19-14 (after an off-speed beauty by German) before North Wilkes started their comeback.
A wide return from the Eagles ultimately tied the set up at 22-apiece with North’s Shelby Roal on serve. A subsequent ace gave the Vikings the lead, but Roal couldn’t close the visitors out, giving the Eagles one last chance.
The last point put a spectacular end to a thrilling set. After a long volley that saw both teams dig out dangerous shots North’s Rachel Winkler was able to secure the 25-23 win with a block at the net against Richardson, and the match was tied.
But the Central front line, a deep, strong group, was one of the reasons the visitors took over down the stretch.
“There’s not one person on our front line who we feel like has to get the ball every time,” said Anderson. “We have confidence in setting a lot of different kids. Our roster generally runs ten-deep, and all 10 players are an important part of our rotation.”
Anderson complimented his team on “keeping our composure when we were challenged tonight. North Wilkes had several good service runs. They battled us all night long. But we were able to find ways to adjust and come out on top.”
North Wilkes hit the road Thursday for a match with the Ashe County Huskies in West Jefferson. Next week their schedule resumes with a nonconference home battle against Carver.
Wilkes Central faced Elkin Thursday evening in Moravian Falls. Up next is a Tuesday tilt with the Huskies, also at home.
The Vikings’ JV team stayed undefeated in the MVAC with a 2-1 win over the Eagles. North is now 2-0 in league play and 5-0 overall. The JV Eagles drop to 0-2 in the MVAC and 3-4 overall.