Down. But not out.
Chapel Hill, the 2-seed from the Mideast in the 3A volleyball bracket, rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat a tenacious Cleveland team 3-2 on Thursday night in the second round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
The Tigers (22-5) were on the ropes after three sets of the best-of-five match.
“I told them, ‘Hey, we’re the champion,’” Chapel Hill coach Ross Fields said of his talk with team when it was down 2-1 and facing elimination. “A boxer doesn’t always win in a Round 1 knockout or a Round 2 knockout. Sometimes you have to go the distance. You just have to survive to win.”
He continued: “In the end (in the fifth set) that was winning time. And we won.”
The two teams set the tone early, signaling that it was going to be a hard-fought match when Cleveland, seeded seventh in the East, won the opening set 29-27. Chapel Hill took the second set 25-23 after being behind 23-18, winning the final seven points of the set.
Cleveland didn’t let the disappointment of losing the second set stick, taking the third set 25-22.
Then came the comeback.
Chapel Hill won the fourth set 25-16 and came out strong in the fifth set to win 15-9 and take the match.
“This is the best match we have played all year,” Cleveland coach Shelley Johnston said. “I couldn’t be prouder. No one thought that we could compete with Chapel Hill.”
She continued: “They played the best volleyball they have played. We had some inexperienced errors, but my team is so young. To say that we lost to Chapel Hill in the second round is not a loss.”
Chapel Hill was led by seniors Kyra Crider with 14 kills and Shea Golden with 13.
Fields has his goal firmly in place despite the scare against Cleveland.
“Our goal is Nov. 5 in Reynolds Coliseum (in the state championship game),” Fields said. “They know that is where we want to be. We didn’t want to get in a play a match and then be done. We want to go all the way. That is what we are focused on right now.”
And Fields knows it will take his team’s best effort.
“I told them six wins in seven days,” Fields said. “That is a lot of work. And every round gets tougher.”
Cleveland (15-8) was led by junior Taylor Thomas with 12 kills. Junior Taylor Hein and sophomore Ashley Talbot had 10 kills each. Sophomore setter Jenna Myer had 39 assists.
Cleveland has only four seniors on its 13-player roster, and Johnston is looking ahead at a bright future.
“This team has so much potential,” Johnston said. “They are going to be a great team. I really think they will have a run in the next couple of years at the state championship. I really, really do.”
Cleveland gave Chapel Hill a run on Thursday, but it in the end it was the favored Tigers who won a gem of a volleyball match.