SMITHFIELD — West Johnston volleyball coach Jerry Hogan had some timeout magic working on Thursday evening against Smithfield-Selma.
Hogan called three timeouts in the final two games, and after each one the Wildcats halted a SSS run and went on to sweep past the Spartans for their fifth straight victory — 25-22, 25-19, 25-22.
“Our biggest challenge with this group is ourselves,” Hogan said. “I’ve been coaching these girls for four years and I know them like I know the back of my hand. The only problem we had tonight was our energy, our mood, the whole thing. I think it was important tonight to kind of struggle through some things and be on time [with the timeout] when they just needed that mood-breaker.
“That’s something I don’t know that I could have done three years ago. But when you have been with these girls as long as I have, you can just feel it. They don’t need to be told they are in trouble. They just need to be told, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ During that last timeout, I just told them a story about when I was a kid and I was crawfishing.”
Each timeout left the Wildcats players smiling, loose and ready to play.
After winning a back-and-forth first game 25-22, West Johnston was ahead 14-11 in the second game when Smithfield-Selma scored six straight points.
Timeout. Smiles emerged on the Wildcats’ faces in the huddle. Then West Johnston (16-3, 7-1 Greater Neuse River 4A) went on an 11-2 run powered by outside hitter Megan Gibbons to finish out the second game. Gibbons, who finished the match with 11 kills, had five kills in the game-ending run for the Wildcats.
In the third game, Smithfield-Selma again went on a run – scoring five straight points to take an 18-13 lead. Another Hogan timeout led to six straight West Johnston points. The Wildcats were ahead 24-20, but the scrappy Spartans refused to down without a fight.
After SSS pulled within 24-22, Hogan again called his players over. The crawfish story had the Wildcats girls grinning – and match point followed.
“All they need is just a chance to get off the floor and compose themselves,” Hogan said. “What I am hoping is the struggles and some of the things they go through will carry over. I like the way we are headed. We are on a collision course for Garner on Oct. 2.”
Garner, three-time defending conference champion, handed West Johnston its only league loss and has won 41 straight Greater Neuse River matches.
Smithfield-Selma coach Chase Crocker said that the solid effort against West Johnston was one of his team’s best matches of the season. The Spartans (3-12, 3-5) are in fifth played in the conference and striving to hold on to the fifth playoff spot.
“[West Johnston] is strong on the outside, the weak side, they can hit it from all angles,” Crocker said. “I thought we played well tonight. I was really proud of my girls. We passed about as well as we have all year and competed as hard as we have all year.”
Logan McCullen had six kills for SSS and Emily Phillips five.
West Johnston was led by Gibbons, who had five aces to go with her 11 kills, libero Shannon Bolyard (five aces and five digs), Eboni Robinson (five kills) and Halle Eicher (four kills).
The stabilizing play of Bolyard was crucial, Hogan said, and has been all season.
“She’s never played libero before, she’s been a front-row player,” Hogan said. “I think that single-handedly has been the difference between last year’s team, was making her the libero. We have had some great individual performances [from different players], but Shannon seems to always be there, whether we are winning or losing.
“She has been such a constant sparkplug for us.”
Bolyard’s spark was needed in a tough road match Thursday. And so were some mood-breaking timeouts.