Pushed to a fifth game on the road and facing one of the state’s top programs, Apex fell short in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A volleyball playoffs in Wilmington Thursday
Fourth-seeded Hoggard (22-2) claimed a 3-2 (25-21, 18-25, 26-24, 20-25, 15-13) victory, ending the year of the visiting No. 12 Cougars (17-8).
Apex was hit with setbacks early, but the season was still a good one.
“It was not our easiest season. Of all my four years, I’ve had the most injuries, the most ups and downs, but we worked hard as a team and we came together all the time,” senior Ally Beckman said. “And no matter what, we fought hard and wanted it.”
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Junior Abigail Veit missed all but two games of the regular season with multiple ankle injuries. Her return for the postseason helped Apex defeat Southwest Wake champ Green Hope – who denied the Cougars a seventh straight league title – in the second round.
“I guess after coming back from Green Hope, we maybe kind of overlooked this team. We didn’t get too excited or come out 100 percent ready to go,” Apex coach Emily Whitsett said.
After the two sides split the first two sets, Hoggard – led by coach Ron Strickland, the NCHSAA’s all-time leader in volleyball victories with 744 – delivered a huge blow in the third set, where it won the last four points to stun Apex 26-24.
Apex battled back in the fourth set. Beckman had nine kills, including an impressive run of six kills and one block during an Apex 11-1 run.
She finished with 24 kills. Veit had 20.
“(Beckman) started taking charge of the team, and we sent every ball to her,” Whitsett said. “They couldn’t stop her. When she was in the front row we were doing well.”
In the deciding fifth set, Apex led 9-5, but Hoggard went ahead 10-9.
Hoggard went up 12-11 but star player Alyssa Zupan (18 kills) went down with injury as a hush came over the gym. A few points later, Zupan was back in to deliver the winning tip.
Apex will say goodbye to eight seniors including Virginia recruit Coral Kazaroff, a libero.
“It’s just been ups and downs and all kinds of different trials that we’ve gone through. I’m proud of the girls and what they’ve done and who stepped up,” Whitsett said.