High School Sports

D.H. Conley downs Broughton, heads to 4A East volleyball final

Following a deflating fourth set Tuesday night, D.H. Conley volleyball coach Jennifer Gillikin reminded her team that it had taken two sets from Broughton. She also reminded the Vikings who had home-court advantage.

A bunch of Conley students, including the football team, provided the noise and support one more time. The Vikings did the rest on the floor during their fourth-round N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A match, jumping out to a big lead, then hanging on to beat Broughton 3-2 (25-20, 10-25, 26-24, 18-25, 15-13).

“It was our gym, our house,” she said “We were going to protect our court, control the set and that’s what our kids did.”

D.H. Conley (25-0) will face Green Hope, who beat Person 3-1, on Thursday in the East final.

Broughton quieted Conley’s rowdy gym in the fourth set, scoring seven consecutive points to stake the Caps to an 18-11 lead en route to taking the set.

Then the Vikings got themselves going. Three kills by Alannah Thomas helped Conley score the first five points of the deciding set. At 3-0 and 7-1, Broughton coach Jim Freeman called timeouts in an attempt to squelch momentum.

“They did a good job serving,” he said. “Our first contact was not good enough. We had to start passing better. We got stuck in a rotation where our setter was front row blocking. But the kid who set for us hadn’t set all year.”

Following the timeout, Thomas had another kill and Emily Kirby blocked a kill attempt by the Caps to boost the Vikings’ advantage to 9-1.

Then Broughton rallied, thanks to four kills from Kalee Vanderhorst to keep the Caps in the match. Trailing 13-6, the Vikings had three points go out of bounds, combined with a kill by Jade Demps to trim the deficit to 13-10.

It was Gillikin’s turn to call timeout.

“We were close,” Gillikin said. “The adrenaline in our kids was just flowing and we had to bring them back down, get them focused and go one point at a time. At the end, you just have to go one point at a time.”

Samantha Dunn came out of the timeout with a kill to make the score 14-10. Broughton cut the deficit to 14-13 before a tip by Thomas advanced Conley and preserved its unbeaten season.

“I loved how they came roaring back,” Freeman said of his team. “They showed a lot of guts. Both teams showed great heart. It was a great high school volleyball match.”

Vanderhorst, who is heading to East Tennessee State, finished with 24 kills and 22 digs. The senior spent two years at Conley before moving to Raleigh prior to her junior season.

Claire Sawyer, Broughton’s leading setter, missed the match with an ankle injury. Holli Smith stepped in with 51 assists. Demps had 14 kills, six digs and a pair of aces, while Grace Youngblood added 11 kills, five digs and two aces. Nan Parrish had nine kills, while Amber Russell, Smith and Alden Willis accounted for digs apiece.

Thomas had 24 kills to pace Conley, and Caitlyn Smirne had 24 assists and six kills. Dunn had 12 kills, Rachel Bewick had 12 digs and Kirby had eight blocks.

Going into Tuesday’s match, Conley had dropped only one set during the playoffs, been pushed to five sets all season and had dropped only eight sets all season.

“They stressed us,” Freeman said of the Vikings. “They served really well, they’re a great defensive team, they know how to play and they’re really well coached. Very tough team to beat.”

Broughton’s lone loss came against Leesville Road, in five sets on Sept. 15, and had won 12 consecutive matches going into Tuesday’s showdown. The Caps’ only other five-set match took place Saturday, knocking out Cardinal Gibbons and ending the Crusaders’ run of seven consecutive state titles.

“We knew about Broughton’s tradition,” Gillikin said. “They’re a strong team, and they have an awesome coach. We knew we had to come in and play our best.”

Broughton finished its season with a 21-2 record.

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