RALEIGH — Leesville Road overcame its biggest test yet Tuesday to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East regional championship and head to Saturday’s state championship match at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
The 3-2 win against Hoggard made the undefeated Pride the first volleyball team in school history to make the state finals. Leesville (27-0) will face 4A West champion Charlotte Ardrey Kell (30-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“The girls are really excited,” Leesville Road coach Taine Mergenthaler said as his players danced in celebration on their home court. “These girls have accomplished goal after goal this year, and it’s just amazing. … It’s great to say we’re the best Leesville team. Now we’re excited for Saturday to try to be the best in the state.”
Getting through 2011 4A state runner-up Hoggard (20-7) in the regional finals was no cakewalk, as the Pride faced its first five-set match of the year.
Leesville Road was tested early for the second straight match. Though it jumped to an 8-2 lead during the first set, Leesville Road was made to work for each point. The Vikings blockers forced second and third attempts by the Pride, which eventually led to Leesville Road misplacing hits and Hoggard surging to a 25-23 first-set win.
“Both teams obviously were great at the net,” said junior middle hitter Samara Brown, who Leesville Road with five blocks. “We kind of weren’t expecting that, so we had to adjust. But our team is really good at putting things behind us, so I knew we would be OK.”
It was the second time in as many matches that Leesville Road dropped its first set, but this time, the comeback wouldn’t be as easy.
Leesville Road evened the match with a 25-18 second-set win, and then dominated the third to a 25-15 win.
Halfway through the fourth set, the Pride looked poised to finish off the Vikings, but Hoggard fought back from a 15-9 deficit to win a 30-28 thriller and send the match to a deciding set.
“It was really nerve-wrecking for all of us, because we felt like we should have won the fourth,” said senior libero Kati Stammen. “Our game plan was to put the ball in the court. That was one thing we were struggling with, so we knew if we got back to that and went out there and pushed for every point, we’d win.”
Leesville won the fifth set 15-10.
Stammen led the Pride with 18 digs, setter Allison Stone contributed 34 assists and Zipporah Foster added 26 assists. Sarah Kelly led the Leesville Road attack with 19 kills, and Sasha Karelov had 17 kills and 15 digs.
As the players laughed, hugged and wiped away tears Tuesday, they knew there still was one more step to their ultimate goal.
“Tonight’s our only night to celebrate,” Stammen said. “We go back to practice (Wednesday) on Halloween and Thursday and Friday to get ready for Saturday.”