For the first time, the “Fight for 55” was a fight for first place in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference volleyball standings.
Green Hope defeated rival Panther Creek 3-2, and with the win gets bragging rights, temporary custody of the traveling Fight for 55 rivalry trophy sign as well as a spot atop the SWAC just two weeks into the conference schedule.
The Falcons (8-0, 3-0) didn’t have coach Karl Redelfs for the big match – he was in Ohio – but he’ll return pleased to know his team showed many positive signs in a close win. And that Green Hope is still undefeated.
This year’s Falcons have good balance and a number of players that can put away points like Kayla Dowler (18 kills), Erin Boone (16 kills, 16 assists) and Alexis Engelbrecht (8 kills).
“They key to us being undefeated is playing as a team. We don’t play for ourselves, we play together,” Dowler said.
One of Green Hope’s biggest weaknesses last year was serve receive, but it’s turning into a team strength this season. Erin McIndoe had 34 digs with just four errors and Sydney Dowler had 38 assists.
“We started out rough but we’ve spent a lot of time at practice working on serve-receive,” said assistant coach Amy Wagner, who filled in as head coach. “Our hitters can’t hit unless we get that pass so focusing on that first and foremost is what’s been getting us through.”
Losing a conference player of the year (Caitlyn Della, now at Wake Forest) and co-coach of the year (Holly Fong) would be hard to overcome for many programs coming off their first league championship.
There’s another Della on this year’s team, freshman Laura, as well as some young talent that played sparingly last year.
But Panther Creek (7-2, 3-1) has kept it rolling, its only other loss coming to 4A power J.H. Rose in Greenville.
“They’re tough. They’re fighters,” first-year coach Karen Garmon said. “A lot of these kids have either moved up from JV or have gone from role players to key players. The physical ability is there, it’s just working on the mental toughness with them. Being the go-to player is something that only game situations can help you with.”
Setter Alani Alderman and all-around player Emily Maggio help lead a Catamounts team that doesn’t make many passing mistakes and keeps the ball in play with strong defense.
“We’re very scrappy on defense and we serve well. We served very well tonight,” Garmon said. “However, (the Falcons) were returning them. They brought it right back.”
First set: Panther Creek takes the first set 25-17 (PAN led 1-0).
Second set: Green Hope trailed 20-14 but rallied to tie it 23-all and the two exchange kills to make it 24-all and 25-all.
Second set: An Amy Zhang kill and a team block give Green Hope a 27-25 win (match tied 1-all).
Third set: Panther Creek cruises to a 25-18 win (PAN led 2-1).
Fourth set: Green Hope pulls away late to win 25-21 (match tied 2-all).
Fifth set: Green Hope takes largest lead of the set at 9-6.
Fifth set: Green Hope expands that lead with an 11-7 advantage.
Fifth set: Panther Creek cuts it to 11-8, but Green Hope pulls away to win 15-10 and take the match.
THEY SAID IT
“It could have gone either way,” Garmon said. “I think the battle of the will was the same, the hustle was the same, the intensity was the same. A couple of balls went their way where we missed some blocks. I think that was a critical part of it. We missed some double-block situations in the fifth set and that’s where they pulled away.”