RALEIGH — It had been a while since No. 1 Leesville Road had been tested.
The Pride volleyball team has rolled through this season virtually unscathed and boasting an undefeated record, but Wakefield had seen the slightest sign of vulnerability when the teams met a month ago. Despite the Pride’s unblemished standing, the Wolverines had been the only team to take a set against the top team this year
No. 4 Wakefield came out swinging Thursday, coming from behind to stun Leesville (17-0, 12-0) in the first set, but that would be the Wolverines’ only win as the Pride walked away with another 3-1 win in a matchup between the Cap Eight’s top two teams.
“It’s been a long run since anyone has really tested us because it’s been a little time since we’ve played (Wakefield),” said Leesville Road coach Taine Mergenthaler. “We were kind of coasting along and I think we got caught off guard.”
After falling 25-19 in the first set, the Pride recovered and took control of the match.
“They came prepared to play,” Mergenthaler said of Wakefield (13-3, 10-2). “I think we were a little shell-shocked. You can tell they were amped and really wanted to be the first to beat us.”
Wakefield coach Cynthia Terrell said the first set was the best performance she had seen from her team all year, but the Wolverines couldn’t maintain the momentum past that opening win.
“We just self-destructed,” she said. “We made errors at the wrong time and we got away from our game plan. It’s the little stuff that’ll kill you.”
Wakefield made errors on both sides of the ball, something Terrell said can’t happen against a team like Leesville.
The teams traded leads in an evenly played second set, but a composed Leesville team tied the match with a 25-22 win, and didn’t look back.
The Pride won the final sets 25-17 and 25-15. “They’re very good, and everything was at stake for them, and they knew that,” Terrell said of Leesville. “I’m sure we’ll see them again in the conference tournament and I’m sure that’ll be a good match.”
The two teams met in the conference tournament championship last year, which Wakefield won in a sweep.
“Wakefield has always been really good,” said Leesville outside hitter Sasha Karelov, who led the Pride with 20 kills. “All I can remember (from last year’s championship) is Kati hurting herself.”
Leesville libero Kati Stammen was knocked out of last year’s conference championship with a head injury early in the match. Stammen, one of the Pride’s best players, finished with 17 digs Thursday.
Karelov said it’s been a journey to watch Leesville’s program grow throughout the years, but now with everyone healthy and clicking, it feels like their time.
This year’s Wakefield team is also much different than the squad that won the conference tournament last year. “We’re in a rebuilding stage this year, but this is a rivalry,” said Wakefield junior Darian Mack.
If the teams meet again in the conference tournament finals, it’ll be “intense,” Karelov and Mack agreed.
The Cap Eight 4A tournament begins Thursday at host Leesville.