Apex has its sights set on the top of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference volleyball standings, where Green Hope and Panther Creek reside with their gaudy records.
But the No. 11 Cougars (10-4, 8-2 SWAC) can’t overlook teams like Holly Springs – and they didn’t Tuesday night in a 3-0 sweep of the Golden Hawks, winning on the road 25-18, 25-15, 25-21 in a matchup of teams in The News & Observer Top 25 volleyball rankings.
“This was really important,” Apex first-year coach Michael Webster said. “Our goals are to finish as high as we can in the conference. We’re sitting in third, and we’ve got some matches ahead of us that we have to win. Holly Springs is a really good program, and they’re sitting right behind us, so a win against them keeps that separation.”
In a way, the No. 22 Hawks (9-7, 4-5) are starting their season now after becoming 100 percent healthy only last week.
“Everybody’s finally back and healthy,” Holly Springs coach Emily Rice said. “We started to get that back last week when we played Green Hope, and we took them to five sets, which was a big achievement for us. Tonight didn’t go exactly how we would have wanted it to, and we’ve got a lot of things we can do a lot better than we did tonight – and they know they can do better.”
Early this season, Apex went through some “growing pains,” according to Webster, as the senior-laden team adjusted to its new coach. Four key seniors graduated, and several players have had to step in their place. That transition is nearing completion.”
The Cougars offense worked well, too, led by the powerful Alyssa Hansen. She had 12 kills, many on rocket spikes in the middle of Holly Springs’ defense. But Apex has several weapons, like Madeline Rudd (seven kills), Morgan Johnson (five kills) and Natalie White (four kills).
“We had to go through a lot of new processes, and we figured everything out,” Cougars junior Alyssa Hansen said. “Today was the first day where we really brought it together. We had the best energy, and it worked out really well for us.”
Apex, which has won its last four SWAC matches, also had seven block-kills, including four in the decisive third game. The Cougars made in-game adjustments to thwart Hawks’ hitters Kayla Arthur, Shaelyn Squeri and Madi Lancaster.
“We always have an opportunity to set a person who can terminate a ball,” Webster said. “We have options from our own back row. Kids are playing out of positions they maybe normally would play, but they’re all stepping up and contributing in a major way.”
Shaelyn Squeri is one of three Hawks to return to action recently, as the senior missed nearly three weeks because of a concussion. Senior Asia Greenhill was out 10 days with an illness, and junior Grace Fields played her first match of the season on Tuesday after an ankle injury.
Holly Springs looks forward to the second run through the conference, hoping to climb over the .500 mark in the SWAC. The Hawks face Fuquay-Varina, fourth in the league, later this week.
“This is a big week for us,” Rice said. “We’re excited for that second run of ‘revenge’ matches, if you will.”
Holly Springs will need to step up its attack, for it struggled getting swings down against the Cougars.
“Definitely getting around that block was an issue early on,” Rice said. “That’s something we’ll be working on.”
Holly Springs has some talent, including senior libero Karrington Cooper, who played a solid game against Apex.
“Karrington has some fight,” Rice said. “She’s fast. She’s going to beat the ball. That’s what I tell her: ‘You’ve got to beat the ball.’ She’s the fastest one on the team, and that’s what the libero needs to be. She’s got some hustle, some fight, and that’s the best mentality a libero can have: Don’t let the ball hit the floor.”
Game 1: Holly Springs closed to within 19-17 with a block-kill by Arthur and Fields, but Apex was able to deliver the ball to Hansen, whose two kills helped push lead to 24-18. White then closed out the game with a kill.
Game 2: The Hawks cut a 14-5 lead to 14-11 with six consecutive points but didn’t get back-to-back points the rest of the game. Apex got 13 points on Holly Springs errors.
Game 3: The Hawks led 9-6 after an ace from Cooper, but Apex went on a 5-1 run to lead 11-10. Holly Springs reeled off three straight points before the Cougars rallied for a 16-11 edge, getting an ace and a kill from Rudd, kill from Hansen and a block-kill from Hansen and Anna Credle. Another Cooper ace helped Holly Springs get to within two, 22-20, but Rudd later closed out the match with a kill.
THEY SAID IT
“Our goal is to get to the top of the conference. It’s a mountain for us right now, but we’ve got to do our job and hope the chips fall in our direction,” Webster said.