Winning streaks gain notice because everybody likes a winner. And the idea of knocking off a consistent winner, like Princeton’s volleyball team, for example, motivates every opponent.
Princeton had its 47-match Carolina 1A Conference play winning streak ended Tuesday evening by an unbeaten (10-0-1) Lakewood squad in five thrilling sets. The Leopards prevailed, 25-16, 20-25, 20-25, 25-18, 15-13 in a match that felt like it would have been more at home in late October — and the later stages of the playoffs — than mid-September.
Both teams carried 6-0 league marks into the battle.
“I think it’s going to do our team good,” said Princeton coach Paige Renfrow of the loss. “We knew Lakewood was going to be a strong team. So if we take the right lessons from it, this could be the best thing that happens to us.”
Lakewood rode the home-court advantage provided by a nearly full gym to a first-set victory. But Princeton came back to take the next two sets by matching 25-20 counts displaying the solid, precision execution that has become a trademark of the program for this decade.
The Leopards’ more potent hitting attack featuring Jordan Tew, Kiara Rich, Rashyda Parker and Aleah Parker took control early in the fourth set and made a deciding fifth set a very harsh reality long before the Lakewood side of scoreboard showed 25 points.
“We should have never gotten as far behind in the fourth set as we did,” Renfrow said. “But the fifth set was all about momentum. We played smart, solid volleyball up until they (the referees) carded me. That happened and it flushed us out. The momentum went all Lakewood’s way and we couldn’t recover in time.”
The net referee whistled a yellow card on the Princeton coach with the Bulldogs up 10-8. Princeton’s Taylor Carroll won the next point with one of her 17 kills on the night, but two unforced errors on the next two points put Lakewood right back in the match. The Leopards won the next two points as well to go up 13-12 before Kasey Edwards (7 kills) of Princeton notched a winning kill to even the score at 13.
Parker won the next point for Lakewood with a tipped ball and a Bulldog kill attempt on match point went into the net, sending the Leopards into celebration mode and the Bulldogs into the locker room with a conference loss for the first time since 2011.
Princeton had its chance to win because of its consistent defensive play against the Leopards’ big hits. Carroll had 17 digs and Jenna Woodard added 11.
The loss dropped Princeton to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the conference. The two teams — so far and away the class of the league — meet again Oct. 9 at Princeton when the Bulldogs will have a chance to grab a share of the conference lead and or regular-season title.
“Our mental capacity has to improve,” Renfrow said. “There are times where we don’t seem like we’re completely connected with each other on the court. We need to change that. They have to pull together and we need our leaders on the court to help make that happen.”