Green Hope’s boldly going where no Green Hope volleyball team has gone before.
The Falcons have a date with Reagan High, located just north of Winston-Salem, in Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A volleyball championship after a thrilling 3-2 road victory against previously undefeated D.H. Conley in Thursday’s 4A East final.
Green Hope pulled out the win 23-25, 25-19, 25-13, 20-25 and 15-12. It will be Green Hope’s first appearance in the state championship. The Falcons had previously been to the 4A East final once, falling short in 2011.
“We really started dreaming big before playoffs even happened,” Luisa Lyons said. “Each game, we just kept getting better and better and started clicking better. We’re still not at our top level.”
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The match, played in front of a boisterous crowd that filled up one side of the bleachers, went back and forth with every set.
In Conley’s first-set victory, Alannah Thomas couldn’t be stopped. The junior had eight kills to finish with 17 for the Vikings (25-1).
Green Hope (27-1) adjusted in the second, then bulldozed its way through the third.
As Conley focused on the Falcons’ top hitter, Kayla Dowler, setter Sydney Dowler mixed up her passing to Amy Zhang (14 kills) and middle blockers Luisa Lyons (9) and Alexis Englebrecht (7). Kayla spent most of the rest of the game as a decoy but made the most of her opportunities with 13 kills.
“It’s probably the most we’ve gone to our middles,” Sydney Dowler said. “Our middles were on fire tonight.”
Conley played perhaps its best defensive set in the fourth, getting digs and blocks from a number of players. Caitlyn Smirne finished with 12 kills and Samantha Dunn had six.
The match continued to trend Conley’s way into the fifth with a seemingly commanding 7-3 lead, but Green Hope scored the next eight points to lead 11-7. Conley got as close as 12-11 but the Falcons pulled out the win.
“I felt that if we focus on our serving and just kept serving aggressively towards their weaker serve-receivers and then we retain our strength with serve-receive, we would end up winning,” Green Hope coach Karl Redelfs said. “(We) battled but (Conley’s) defense was incredible. At times, our hitters would slump, but we just kept fighting through.”
D.H. Conley was hoping to reach its first state championship since the Vikings won the 3A crown in 2007. Conley, which was also a 4A East runner-up in 2013, will return to the 3A ranks next year.
“That’s a match you expect in the Eastern finals,” Conley coach Jennifer Gillikin said. “We had a hard time connecting on blocks early on and kind of turned that on in the fourth set and it swung momentum. These girls have battled and played with a lot of heart all season.”