Princeton’s volleyball team did three things in Saturday’s NCHSAA 1A state championship match. Two of those things were firsts. The third enabled the Bulldogs to do something they have never done before: win a state volleyball championship.
Princeton won its six set of the playoffs when facing elimination, topping East Surry 15-12 in the fifth set of a match filled with two big swings.
The first came when the Bulldogs — who had trailed in both their fourth and fifth round playoff matches — took a 2-0 set lead (by 26-24 and 25-22 counts). East Surry, a 29-win squad making its first state championship appearance like Princeton, provided the second with dominating victories in the next two sets (25-15 and 25-14).
When it counted the most, Princeton’s two trademarks — a never say die attitude and uncompromising defense — prevailed.
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“We’ve been able to get touches on almost everything,” said Princeton coach Paige Renfrow of her team’s playoff run. “That’s us: somebody keep it alive, somebody chase it down and keep the point alive playing together, helping each other as a team.”
The Bulldogs did that as a unit at Reynolds Coliseum on the N.C. State University campus. They finished with 104 digs as a team, led by the 29-dig performance of Jenna Woodard and Taylor Carroll’s even two dozen.
Princeton (23-4) kept ball after ball alive in the fifth set, forcing eventual miscues by the Cardinals’ talented front line. Senior Kacie Markle led East Surry with 15 kills, but her strong hits kept getting returned in the fifth set.
Bulldogs’ senior middle hitter Kasey Edwards (nine kills) called the Cardinals’ front line the toughest she’d ever played against.
“Taylor and Jenna had to adjust to her (Markle) attacks,” Renfrow said. “We had a hard time figuring her out, then we started setting up off our middle blocker’s shoulder and keeping the ball alive.”
Up 9-7 in the deciding fifth set, the Cardinals (29-2) set up Markle for kill attempts twice but both times Princeton’s back line dug the ball out. The point ended with a kill by Carroll, who had a match-high 19 kills.
The Bulldogs had just three kills in the fifth set, but didn’t let the Cardinals have more than one scoring run of consecutive points.
“We have a very good defense,” said Princeton senior setter Charley Cox. “That’s what has kept us going the whole time. And it’s all because of Coach Renfrow, really. She hits the ball as hard as she can at us in practice every day and we have to pick those up.”
Cox was a fitting championship match MVP. She finished with 27 assists. And on 116 ball touches in the match she made just three errors.