If it seemed Chapel Hill’s towering lineup came at Triton relentlessly from all sides and angles, that’s exactly what the Tigers managed thanks to the deceptive setting of senior Katie Huge.
Her versatile skill setting up powerful kill shots from 6-foot-3 freshman Kaya Merkler, 5-11 senior Shea Golden and other hitters led the Tigers to a 3-0 sweep of Triton in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East Regional final Thursday night at the Tigers’ gym. The scores were 25-20, 25-17 and 25-23.
Chapel Hill (24-5) advanced to the 3A state final against West Region champion Cox Mill (22-0) of Concord. The 3A state title match is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at renovated Reynolds Coliseum on the N.C. State campus. It’s one of four state title matches.
In addition standard forward sets, Huge sometimes crossed up blockers with a backward set and other times she quickly misdirect balls over the net.
“She can go to me or to the other side or over the net,” said Golden, a team captain along with Huge. “That helps a lot.”
Huge said she worked on the skill during the club season with mixed results, but it finally began to click for her in the high school season.
“Our hitters are great, and I have confidence in every single one of them,” Huge said. “We practice a lot of different things so whenever we have to change things up, we’re comfortable.”
Nobody was more comfortable than Merkler with a match-high 11 kills, including the final point to clinch the match. Merkler has been excelling playing outside hitter for the first time after growing up in club volleyball as a middle blocker.
“At the beginning of the season coach (Ross Fields) said I looked like an outside hitter,” Merkler said. “I was worried because I had only played middle blocker, but I feel more comfortable now.”
Golden added nine kills, but 6-foot-3 freshman Courtney Zinker, 5-foot-10 senior Kyra Crider and 5-foot-11 junior Bailey Rose also formed a wall at the net.
“There was a lot of pressure to be up there with the best – Kyra and Shea are the best,” Merkler said. “I really wanted to play with them. I’ve learned to cope and be the best I can be.”
All year Triton’s undersized team overcame its lack of height with scrappy play, defense and passing. But the Hawks never played a team as talented and tall as Chapel Hill.
“I can’t be more proud of their whole run to try and be there on Saturday,” Triton coach Wendy Gaines said. “We didn’t have an answer for No. 14 (Merkler). Sometimes you can’t beat height. That’s all there was to it.”
Despite the loss, the Hawks (21-4) made a remarkable playoff run and brought home an East Regional runner-up trophy for the fourth time. It’s the first one since 2007.
Senior setter Leanna Parker again led Triton with her all-around play. Senior Taylor Gainey led with eight kills and two blocks.