Saturday’s third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs will highlight some of the best volleyball programs in the state.
In 4A alone, D.H. Conley faces New Bern, Cardinal Gibbons hosts Broughton, Green Hope hosts Hoggard and upstart Harnett Central goes to Person. Aside from Harnett Central, the others have all been ranked among the state’s best at some point in the past 10 seasons.
Broughton and Gibbons may headline the group. It was a fourth-round match last year, with Gibbons handing Broughton its only loss, but Broughton was just one of three teams to take a set from the Crusaders.
Gibbons (21-7) has won seven straight titles and is 66-1 in the playoffs since rejoining the NCHSAA in 2005. This year’s team isn’t as dominant as last year or the ones prior, but is fundamentally sound.
“Everyone out there has a very specific job and they know how to do it. As we were talking about, it won’t work every rally, we know that, but we believe if we can stay with our plan and do our thing it will bear out over the course of the game,” Gibbons coach Logan Barber said.
Undefeated Carrboro (26-0) hosts South Lenoir (13-7) in 2A. Defending 2A champ South Granville (23-3, 16-match win streak), a 4-seed on the opposite side of the bracket, goes to Currituck County (17-1). If South Granville and Carrboro both win Saturday and Tuesday, they’ll play for a third straight 2A East final title.
C.B. Aycock (3A, 3-seed East) and Farmville Central (2A, 2-seed East) have two of the best players in their respective brackets. Aycock’s Arlanda Faulkner has 402 kills this year while Farmville’s Courteney Pitt has 370.
The 1A East bracket has just two Triangle teams, and they’ll play each other: Franklin Academy (19-3, fifth seed Mideast) goes to undefeated Louisburg (24-0, first seed East.
Rematches gone: For the most part, the new seeding program has delivered on its intention of keeping top teams from playing in the first round as well as conference opponents (the most unpopular outcome of the methodology in previous years).
There was one first-round conference rematch in all of the 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A Eastern matchups, none in the second round and just two up next in the third round.
The seeds seem to have shaken out pretty well: Only three teams remain that are seeded lower than fifth.
Few underdogs: The seeding may be onto something. The lowest seed left in any of the Eastern brackets is 11-seed Harnett Central. The Trojans, in their final year of 4A before sliding back down to 3A for at least the next four years, knocked off West Johnston and Cape Fear in back-to-back rounds to earn a first-ever trip to the third round (at Person High).
The Trojans, led by Searria Fisher’s 537 digs, are the only team from the Greater Neuse River Conference to make it this far. Clayton lost for just the second time all year, 3-2 to 15-seed Middle Creek, in the first round.
Franklinton, a 6-seed in 2A, is one of the other underdogs left.
Tough draws: However, the bracket’s balance is all in how you look at it. Coaches were stunned to see Panther Creek and Broughton – the Southwest Wake co-champs and the Cap-8 champs – in the second round of the 4A bracket, and the same goes for J.H. Rose and Cardinal Gibbons – a rematch of last year’s 4A East final.
“Well, when I saw the new brackets … I thought, ‘Our half of the bracket is loaded, I mean it’s sick,’ there’s so many good teams and (Panther Creek) is one of them,” Broughton coach Jim Freeman said, “I knew it was going to be a war. They pushed us to the limit.”
Red-hot: Union Pines has won nine straight matches entering Saturday’s match at conference opponent Gray’s Creek. Gray’s Creek is undefeated and has given the Vikings two of their four losses.
“I’m going back to watch film to see what we did right,” Toni Douglas-Boney said of a 3-2 loss to Gray’s Creek earlier in the year. “I think just the momentum, the win streak we have and that we’re playing great together. I’m hoping that will carry over.”
Also in 3A, Triton (18-4) has won 11 straight going into Saturday’s home match against Northern Guilford despite having no one 5-foot-10 or taller.
“We’ve never had any height,” setter Leanna Parker said. “The five seniors on this team have been playing together since sixth grade, so we’ve always worked on defense and passing. But even though our front line is short, they hit well.”
Sanderson (14-10) had won 8 of 9 before falling 3-1 at Wilmington’s Hoggard High in the second round.
Making firsts: Rolesville made its first appearance in the state playoffs before bowing out with a 3-0 loss to Panther Creek in the first round, and Falls Lake Academy did the same before its 3-0 loss to Alleghany County. Northwood won its first playoff game ever, taking down Eastern Wayne 3-0 before falling 3-1 to top-seeded West Carteret.
Princeton ousted: For the first time since 2010, Princeton won’t be in Tuesday’s fourth round of the 1A playoffs. The Bulldogs (15-7) lost 3-1 at Camden County (20-3) in the second round. The senior class of Kortney Edwards, Beth Braswell, Blake Hinnant, Erika Hines, Leah Narron and Daisy Eklund were part of an unforgettable run – 91-15 in the four years.
“This is not the end all, be all,” coach Paige Renfrow said. “I know it hurts them so bad right now. The seniors were itching to get back. It just didn’t happen for us today.”
Western split: Five teams in the N&O area were split into the 1A West (after 64 teams qualify, the bracket is split East/West, so this fluctuates from year to year), but only Roxboro Community (23-3, 20-match win streak), a 2-seed, is still alive in Round 3. North Moore, Chatham Central and Falls Lake Academy lost in the first round and Voyager Academy fell in the second.