Jim Freeman and his Broughton volleyball team weren’t expecting this year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs to be an easy ride.
The Capitals and Leesville Road had some Cap-8 Conference history from earlier this season when the Pride entered Holliday Gym on Thursday night for the third-round contest against the top-seeded Broughton.
No. 9 Leesville came in with just two losses on the year – both at the hands of the Capitals.
And Broughton added one more, in season-ending fashion, with a 3-0 (27-25, 25-13, 25-22) playoff victory.
It was clear from the onset Leesville (18-3) looked to avenge the conference sweep. The Pride had gone on the road and defeated Greenville Conley in the previous round and asserted themselves early in the first set Thursday night, forcing a 27-point game.
“They were just really savvy,” Freeman said of Leesville. “They do a good job of throwing you off and keeping you uncomfortable. So, we struggled to get comfortable all night. We had a little run in the second, other than that, they’re just hard to play against.”
Leesville didn’t let Broughton (22-0) get too far out of reach in the first set, forcing a plethora of ties as late as 25-25. Pride junior libero Ashley Jones turned a broken play into a point when she tapped an assist to Jenna Lyon for a 22-22 knot.
We have a target on our backs because we’re undefeated, so we have to come ready.
Broughton junior OH Kalee Vanderhorst
Broughton senior and College of Charleston commit Katja Ehlers kicked her attack mode into high gear to finish the first set, leading with five kills when the strenuous round was over. She finished with 13.
“Well, I did expect it to be challenging,” Freeman said. “Those teams are good, so it wasn’t a surprise.”
Junior outside hitter Kalee Vanderhorst led the match with a commanding 20 kills. Broughton established a quick lead in the second set behind the force of Vanderhorst’s swings.
She pounded two early kills on the first contact, taking advantage of ball floating at the net.
Vanderhorst, a Conley transfer who has playoff experience, added seven digs and an ace.
“Katja helped me out a lot,” Vanderhorst said. “She was just telling me what was open and what not to swing at. My team has definitely helped out a lot. I just had to get in the rhythm because I started off slow.”
After Broughton took it’s largest lead of the night inside a convincing second-set win, the Pride weren’t done fighting.
A pair of Ehlers aces gave the Capitals a 14-10 edge in the final set, but Leesville stayed close. A tactful push from sophomore right side Timara Chapman and a Meghan Jasper kill later kept them within two.
Junior Syndey Wilson led the Pride with nine kills, while setter Gasper added a team-high 27 assists. At one point in the first set, with Leesville leading 9-8, the Pride had six kills to Broughton’s two.
“The whole time at practice before this, the girls have just been so excited to play and just continue in playoffs,” Leesville coach Erin Hensler said. “I think the only thing that took us to that point in the first set was their excitement and their energy. There was no set game plan. The girls just wanted another chance at Broughton and to show how much hear they had and how good we are at Leesville.”
Kati Smith led the match with 38 assists, while her younger sister Holli led the Caps with 15 digs.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” Vanderhorst said about playoffs. “We came a long way.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan