The Apex Cougars probably couldn’t be faulted for peeking ahead at the NCHSAA 4A state volleyball bracket – and seeing No. 1 seed Broughton looming in the second round.
But Apex (16-6) maintained its intensity in a first-round match against New Hanover on Saturday, quickly dispatching the Wildcats with a dominant 25-12, 25-17, 25-14 victory that sets up a likely battle with Caps.
“The playoffs, it’s always heightened, and we’ve always done very well in the playoffs in the past,” Apex coach Emily Regan said. “It’s the mentality of, ‘This could be our last game.’ They go 100 percent, and the intensity of playoffs doubles from conference play, so they get excited about it.”
Junior hitter Natalie White admitted that the team who could be next, but Apex showed plenty of focus on New Hanover.
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“There are no second chances,” White said. “You lose, and you’re done. You have to take every point and every set as it is because you never know when you’re going to get it back.”
The Cougars didn’t know much about New Hanover (14-8), but they didn’t panic when the Wildcats scored the first three points of the match. White and seniors Abigail Veit and Breanna Andrea each had three kills as Apex took control.
“It’s scary coming in and playing a team that you know nothing about,” Veit said. “We practiced being down, so I think we knew how to come back from that. We weren’t worried; we were ready.”
Apex kept up the pressure in the second game, with freshman Madi Rudd stepping up with six kills as the Cougars raced to a 24-10 lead. Apex was continually able to pass to the appropriate hitters, and New Hanover couldn’t set up blocks. Libero Meredith Calhoun and setters Lauren Tharrington and Sunday Peoples played well.
“Both of our setters know where to put the ball,” White said. “They’re really smart, and they know which hitter to put it to. We have trust in each other, so you’re not nervous.”
The Cougars chatted constantly throughout the match, a sign Apex has made strides this season.
“In the beginning of the season, we struggled with that,” Veit said. “We emphasized it, trying to talk in between points, trying to talk during points. When we are talking, it improves our game 100 percent. That’s definitely a key, to come in with energy and know that we need to be communicating.”
Veit had four more kills in the third game to help the Cougars close out the match. Now, all their attention is focused on the unbeaten Caps – which faces 9-11 Holly Springs Saturday afternoon.
“They have a lot of pressure on them,” Regan said. “I’d rather come in as the underdogs, because we don’t have anything to lose. Anyone can beat anyone in this game, so we’re going to work really hard and see where we can get with that.”
Veit was lost a season-ending injury in a five-game defeat to Broughton last year, but she said the Cougars will “come out stoked, excited for Broughton” on Tuesday.
“We have some past history with Broughton,” Veit said. “This is revenge, this is it. We’re so excited. We haven’t played them in forever, so I can’t wait.”