Princeton’s bid to repeat as NCHSAA 1A state volleyball champions ran into a determined Alleghany County squad Saturday evening at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The Trojans (26-1) scored 12 of the final 19 points in the fourth set to squelch the Bulldogs’ hopes for a fifth set and win the state title, 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 25-20).
Princeton hadn’t played a five-set match all season and won 77 consecutive sets from late August until earlier in the week in its quest to back up its 2014 state title with another banner.
The big weapon in Alleghany County’s first state championship win was the blocking at the net of 5-foot-10 seniors Jade Shepherd and Kasey Caudill, who kept the Bulldogs from getting their dominating offense on track for most of the night.
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Shepherd was named the match MVP with 24 blocks and 11 kills. Caudill had 11 kills as well.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Princeton coach Paige Renfrow. “Alleghany is a great team. I felt like we put up good offense and defense, they just hit their shots. We had a tough time with balls coming off of their blocks.”
Princeton jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set, but the Trojans found their offense midway of the set with Jenna Eisner and Shepherd leading the attack.
The Trojans led most of the second set, finishing on a 7-3 scoring run with a kill from Shepherd catching the net and rolling across the top of it before falling just in the corner of the Princeton court for match point.
It was that kind of night for Alleghany.
“All season, we’ve been preparing for this moment,” said Alleghany coach Debbie Weaver, who is retiring after winning the state title. “We’ve been in that situation (facing a team trying to mount a comeback) and we’ve responded before. I knew we’d respond well together tonight too.”
The Bulldogs were able to win the third set, showing some of the determination that helped them win three straight five-set matches on the road or a neutral court to wrap up their run to the 2014 state championship.
Junior Daisey Eklund had six of her match-high 21 kills in the third set. Taylor Carroll added 11 kills and Hailey Wood had seven kilsl and six blocks in the loss.
In the fourth set, Princeton built up a 7-2 lead before Shepherd got things rolling for the Trojans with a couple of kills and two blocks to put Alleghany up 9-8.
Princeton battled back with an ace from Kelsey Peedin and took its last lead at 13-12 on a Carroll kill.
The Bulldogs had started to figure out how to approach the blocking defense of Alleghany, just when the Trojan offense kicked in again down the stretch of the fourth set.
“We haven’t seen a blocking team like that since South Johnston and that was August,” Renfrow said. “We just were going too hard at it early. It was like hitting into a brick wall. Then we adjusted our touches against their blocks and there weren’t as effective as they were early.”
Alleghany led 20-15 in the fourth before back-to-back aces by Eklund gave the Bulldogs some hope, but Shepherd was right there with a winning block to end Princeton’s mini-rally.
The Bulldogs’ senior class of seven — Peyton Whitley, Emily Woodward, Carroll, Hannah Davis, Wood, Lakyn Whitley and Peedin — played in two state championships, four regional championships and piled up 93 wins (against just 15 losses) in their four seasons together.
“I’ll remember how tight we were and playing with my family,” Carroll said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team to be a part of for four years.”
Renfrow said she couldn’t think of another 1A team in the state that had put together the run the Bulldogs’ class of 2016 players had.
“It’s disappointing to lose now, of course, but we’re going to look back on this in a few years and realize just what an amazing accomplishment all of this was,” Renfrow said.
Wood said she’d remember her teammates most and all of the memories she was able to share with her cousin (Carroll). “All these memories, they’ll be with me forever.”
Concluded Renfrow: “I’m just so proud of them, above all else. I wouldn’t trade them for any group. They’re such a special group.”
Princeton Volleyball: Class of 2016 Resume
1: State Championships
2: Regional Championships
2: State Championship Appearances
2: Twenty-five-plus win seasons
3: Regular-Season Conference Championships
3: Conference Tournament Championships
3: Twenty-plus win seasons
4: Regional Finals Appearances
25: Consectutive matches won 3-0 in 2015
77: Consecutive sets won during the 2015 season
93: Wins in Four Years