Vikings at the net

North Wilkes' McKenzie Johnson and Stacie Shumate.

Ashe County scored a hard-fought road win Tuesday night in Hays, beating North Wilkes 3-1 in a league match featuring razor-thin margins through all four sets.

With the win, the Huskies improved to 11-6 and 5-5 in Mountain Valley Athletic Conference play. That victory solidified Ashe County’s still-tenuous hold on fourth place in the league standings.

The Vikings dropped to 4-6 and 11-7.

“Throughout all four sets, we put ourselves in a position to win,” said North Wilkes Head Coach Samantha Smith. “But we ended up dropping three of those by two or three points. Sets like that come down to one mistake here or there, so we need to continue to work on finishing matches when we have a chance.”

Ashe County won set one 25-22, but had to come from behind to secure the game. North Wilkes had the lead as late as 17-16, when Savannah Royall delivered a point on a pretty off-speed shot. Royal looked like she would set one of the Vikings’ front row hitters, but instead popped the ball behind her back and up and over the net for the point.

The Huskies tied the set up at 16, though, courtesy of a kill from Bella Powers. And a subsequent shot from Jordan Lewis that went up and over the Vikings’ wall gave the visitors the game one lead for good.

The momentum of the set one victory initially carried over into set two. The Huskies roared out to 7-0 advantage behind a service run from Powers.

But once the Vikings broke that run, thanks to a point from North’s Rachel Winkler, the home team crept back into contention. An unforced error from the Huskies tied the set at 22-all, and after the teams traded points down the stretch another error gave the Vikings a 25-24 lead.

The next point, from Winkler, grazed off the fingertips of the Huskies’ wall and soared deep and out. Officials hesitated on the call before finally awarding the Vikings the point, and the set, at 26-24.

“Rachel had a great night at the net for us,” said Smith. “So did Shelby Roal. Their play up front was a big reason we stayed close.”

The two teams battled through a tough third set to a 13-all tie. North grabbed the lead in the middle of the set by as much as 21-17, but the Huskies refused to roll over, instead going on a late roll to tie things up at 24-all.

The set was 26-all when Ashe finally put it away. A point from Ada Jones at the net and an off-speed shot from Powers both found the floor, and the visitors were up 2-1.

The final set was also close, with the Huskies finishing off the Vikings 25-22.

After having faced Wilkes Central, the third-seeded Mountain Valley team, at home Thursday, Ashe County has two road matches next week, against East Wilkes and top-seeded West Wilkes.

North Wilkes traveled to Elkin Thursday. Next week, matches with Starmount (Tuesday in Hays) and Alleghany (Thursday in Sparta) await them.

“We’re doing a lot of good things on the court right now,” said Smith when asked what has to improve for the Vikings to finish the season strongly. “Winning long rallies will help, but otherwise we just need to finish what we start in sets.”

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