When the N.C. High School Athletic Association volleyball brackets came out on Thursday, neither Apex coach Emily Whitsett or Fuquay-Varina coach Jeff Pagel was happy.
The luck – or lack thereof – of the draw meant the Cougars and Bengals had to sqaure off again?
“It felt like a conference tournament,” Pagel said, and Whitsett said the same.
With a 3-0 first-round sweep, host Apex knocked conference foe Fuquay-Varina out of the 4A playoffs on Saturday afternoon, 25-17, 25-21, 25-23.
Apex’s reward? A meeting with fellow Southwest Wake Athletic Conference team Green Hope, who swept Wilmington’s Ashley High on Saturday, in Tuesday’s second round. The Falcons won the SWAC by two games over the Cougars.
Apex (16-7), the 12-seed in the 4A East, got junior hitter Abigail Veit back for the first time since she was injured during a Aug. 26 match at Broughton. Veit had six kills in limited time.
“I wanted to get her in slowly because she just started practicing yesterday,” Whitsett said.
The Cougars came up with timely runs. In game one, it scored eight of the last nine points. In game two, it rallied past Fuquay-Varina (16-7), the 21-seed, with 11 of the final 13 points.
Whitsett challenged her team, which has seven seniors, to step up or risk playing their last game. The Cougars responded.
“The biggest thing for us is cheering, staying positive and supporting each other. It’s very easy for a team like Fuquay to get down on yourselves and let them take all the momentum. We’ve just got to keep that momentum for ourselves,” Apex senior Maddy Comito said. “If you get on a service run, you get the momentum right back.”
Apex, which got a team-high 12 kills from senior Ally Beckman, also trailed 22-20 before scoring four of the last five in game three.
“Today was what’s been the story of our season. We’ve been in matches that were similiar. We’d push to get to 15-20 points then we get complacent and back up a little bit,” Pagel said.
The Bengals have made it to the postseason in four straight seasons, a first for the program.
Fuquay was led by Morgan Sonnendecker’s 13 kills.
“I can’t be mad at them. We won 16 matches this year. But we always want to go farther and farther,” Pagel said. “The next step is to get a banner in our gym.”