Even though Henry Jones has served as Bunn’s head volleyball coach for almost a quarter-century – and has won over 400 matches – some losses can still take an extended period to process.
One year ago, Jones and the Wildcats dropped a pair of matches to rival Franklinton – one on Senior Night and the other in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A State Playoffs.
For Jones, it wasn’t that the Wildcats lost – it was how they lost. They were swept by the Red Rams on Senior Night, marking the first time a Jones-coached club had ever fallen on that milestone occasion. Then, in the postseason, Bunn fell after leading after three sets – frittering away several points in the closing pair of sets.
Bunn gained a measure of revenge for those setbacks during Tuesday’s first meeting of the 2016 campaign between the clubs at the FHS Gymnasium. Still, the Wildcats made Jones sweat the outcome a bit before holding on 25-20, 25-10, 19-25 and 25-23.
“I really didn’t want to bring up what happened last year, but we ended up talking about it,’’ Jones said. “It was always in the back of my mind, but this is a different team. I liked the fact that the girls were able to put some stuff behind us and were able to win (the closing set).’’
Much more than Franklin County bragging rights were at stake as Bunn moved into second place outright in the Northern Carolina Conference with the clutch decision. The Wildcats are 9-5 overall and 6-1 in the NCC, while Franklinton currently holds down the league’s third spot at 6-4 and 5-2.
Bunn took the first two sets and was ahead 13-6 in the third set before Franklinton rallied, thanks in part to some lineup tweaks from coach Crystal Barnes. The fourth set was back-and-forth before Bunn claimed three of the last four points, including a pair of kills from Alexis McPhail. Bunn senior setter Erin Collier, with her club clinging to a 24-23 lead, finished things off with a clean tip into the middle of the Red Rams’ defense.
“We worked as a team,’’ Collier said. “Alexis put (those kill attempts) down. On the last point, there is always a hole in the middle of the court – I just tried to find it.’’
THREE TO KNOW
Alexis McPhail, Bunn: The senior saved her best for when it mattered most as she delivered a career-high 17 kills to go with eight blocks. She had seven kills in the fourth set alone.
“We would have been in a hole without Alexis,’’ Jones said. “In the third set, we were having trouble passing, so Alexis didn’t get many kill attempts. We got back to her in the fourth set. I thought that was important because I didn’t think (Franklinton) had an answer for her at the net.’’
Amari Champion, Franklinton: A sophomore middle hitter, Champion continues to develop for the Lady Rams. Seeing her playing time increase over the latter portion of the match, Champion finished with a squad-high nine kills to go with three aces.
Erin Collier, Bunn: Jones has coached his share of talented setters during his storied Bunn tenure, and he considers Collier to be one of the best. And for good reason. Collier provides talent and leadership for the Wildcats and offered three kills and four aces Tuesday. She also served out the first set and secured the winning tip in the final set.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Franklinton has only a trio of seniors on its roster as the Red Rams are quickly reloading under Barnes, who won a state title as a player at Louisburg in the 1980s before continuing her career at UNC-Charlotte. At one point Tuesday, Franklinton had three sophomores and one freshman on the court at the same time.
410: That’s how many matches Jones has won since taking over the Bunn spike program in the 1990s. It was an unlikely marriage that has worked, as Jones was a distance runner at UNC-Chapel Hill before beginning his teaching career. Most of Jones’ early knowledge about volleyball came from videos, but it didn’t take long for him to develop the Wildcats into an elite-level power, including a trip to the 1A State Finals in 1998.
8: The Red Rams committed eight combined service errors in the first two sets – a number that is never a recipe for success.
43: Bunn had 43 kills for the match. In addition to McPhail’s excellence, Bre Monroe and Alex Denton chipped in with seven blasts each.
4: The number of head coaches or assistant coaches Tuesday who have participated in a state championship match. Jones’ 1998 crew featured current assistant Melanie Lovin as a setter, while Franklinton’s duo of Barnes and Lisa Davis both reached the state finals during their playing days at Louisburg under legendary skipper Freddie Edwards.
In 2015, Bunn had a tight-match bugaboo as the Wildcats had difficulty winning close contests, including five-set county losses to Franklinton and Louisburg that have stayed with Jones for the past 10 months. Two weeks ago, Bunn dropped another five-setter at Louisburg, but rebounded during Tuesday’s thriller at Franklinton.
“We have trouble finishing in the past, but we are more of a team now,’’ McPhail said. “We are closer. This was a big (victory) for us.’’
Said Collier: “When we have needed people to step up, they have done it. It’s just a matter of us trusting each other.’’