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Green Hope sweeps Apex out of NCHSAA playoffs

Green Hope’s Sydney Dowler (5) sets the ball while teammate Alexis Engelbrecht (6) looks on during the third game. The Green Hope Falcons and the Apex Cougars met in a second round NCHSAA 4A volleyball playoff game in Cary, N.C. on October 29, 2019. Green Hope wins 3-0.
Green Hope’s Sydney Dowler (5) sets the ball while teammate Alexis Engelbrecht (6) looks on during the third game. The Green Hope Falcons and the Apex Cougars met in a second round NCHSAA 4A volleyball playoff game in Cary, N.C. on October 29, 2019. Green Hope wins 3-0. newsobserver.com

Apex’s players leaped from their bench seats with each point, screaming along with their celebrating volleyball teammates on the court. The Cougars’ fans stomped their feet in the bleachers, creating a thunderous noise.

The roar was worthy of Apex pulling off a monumental upset against three-time defending state champion Green Hope, but in reality it was about winning only one game in the best-of-three match. The Falcons are that dominant to inspire such passion for little victories.

The Cougars had second-game leads of 10-6 and 18-12, but Green Hope ultimately swept the match 25-16, 27-25 and 25-15 in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Regional Tuesday at Green Hope’s gym.

“Obviously, they are a tremendously talented team, but we believed we could win,” Apex coach Michael Webster said. “We did everything we could to try and do that.”

Green Hope has now swept 14 of its 19 North Carolina opponents this year, including Apex for the second time. The Falcons, ranked No. 20 in the USA Today poll, lost their only two matches this season to out-of-state schools, No. 12 Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and No. 19 Louisville (Ky.) Assumption, in a Louisville tournament.

In state tournament matches, this was the Falcons’ 10th 3-0 sweep in 17 matches in their championship streak. They had one sweep in six wins in 2016, four in five victories in 2017 and four in five decisions in 2018.

In the Apex second-game comeback, Green Hope senior Priscilla Jones recorded back-to-back kills for a 23-22 lead and another kill for a 25-24 edge.

“The team came together in the second game,” Jones said. “Unity is our strength. We can come back from anything. That is our best asset. We have a lot to defend this year, so we’ve got to work hard every single play. We know we have to go for No. 4.”

Setter Sydney Dowler, the three-time state finals MVP, said the team has developed depth over the course of the season. That was on display as 5-11 junior Annie Elvin had 10 kills and 5-11 senior Grace Patrick nine.

“We are much more balanced,” Dowler said. “Our passing has improved. We’re distributing the ball better and getting everybody involved.”

RECORDS: Apex (16-9) at Green Hope (23-2)

THREE WHO MATTERED:

(Apex – Halvorsen, Ainsley) The 5-foot-8 junior plays bigger than her height, finishing with nine kills. Green Hope was about to close out a two-point win in the second game when Halvorsen’s kill tied the match 25-25 to extend it.

(Green Hope – Dowler, Sydney) The 6-0 senior bound for Maryland is ambidextrous. She deftly slips in left-handed kills when the defense is leaning the other way or expecting a set.

(Green Hope – Jones, Priscilla) The 6-1 middle blocker bound for East Carolina finished with seven kills and three blocks.

WORTH MENTIONING

--- Green Hope is seeded only third in the East 4A bracket despite its national rankings and unbeaten record against North Carolina schools. According to the NCHSAA, conference champions are seeded first based on Adjusted MaxPreps Rankings. Green Hope was the third highest conference champion in the eastern part of the draw according to that metric.

--- Although Sydney Dowler moved to Green Hope from Green Bay, Wis., her family is not related the Green Bay Packers legend Boyd Dowler, a two-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver on the Vince Lombardi’s teams. In the 1960s, a famous TV catch phrase from CBS announcer Ray Scott broadcasting Packers games was dragging out a scoring pass from Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr to Dowler: “Starr …. Dowler … touchdown!”

“We’re big Packers fans,” Sydney said. “We had never met another Dowler until my parents met him. My parents named my older brother Boyd.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.
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