Lady Panthers win thriller at Washington

Published 10:59 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When Washington took the opening set, 25-9, Wednesday against Northside, it seemed like the Lady Pack would be cruising to its second win in as many days. The Lady Panthers had other plans. They won the second, third and fifth sets to top Washington, 3-2, on its own court.

Northside couldn’t get out of its own way in the first set. Nearly every time it got to serve, it gave it right back to Washington thanks to an error of some kind. Communication was an issue, and while the Lady Panthers hit the ball, placement was far from what it needed to be.

“I knew we could hit. I just didn’t want them to get frustrated,” Northside coach Michelle Leathers said. “… It’s very impressive for them to come together. Our first game was at Riverside. To come together and have that togetherness, that’s what I preach every single day.”

PHOTOS: Northside at Washington volleyball

The hosting Lady Pack maintained its lead early in the second set. Northside came out more polished, and Logan Jefferson’s ace tied the set at 9-9. With senior Emori Smith serving, the Lady Panthers went on a 6-0 run that gave them their first lead of the game. She led the surge with an ace and a kill.

Washington pulled within one, 19-18, to force a timeout from the visitor’s bench. Northside didn’t let go of its lead as it won the set, 25-22.

“Mentally, they have to learn to overcome themselves,” Washington coach Kendall Hihn said. “There were a couple times I would have called a timeout because (Northside) was getting a rally. I told them when we did get a timeout, ‘I’m not going to bail you out. You have to learn to conquer being tired.’ They did it a couple times.”

Emme Davis serves to Northside.

Washington went down 3-0 to start the third set, but Elisa Wilkins’ serving spearheaded seven unanswered points. She had three-straight aces during the run. The Lady Pack couldn’t keep the Lady Panthers at arm’s length, though. Smith, Savannah Slade and Grace Armstrong hit the ball well and they capitalized on Lady Pack errors to take a 16-11 lead. Strong work up front helped Northside keep control in a 25-16 win in the third set.

The Lady Pack, trailing 2-1, was backed against the wall in the fourth set when Northside stormed out to an 8-1 lead. Washington erased the deficit. Summer Campbell’s serving helped it to build a 14-11 lead. Northside kept close, though, and an ace from Slade tied the set at 17-17. A quick 5-point spurt with Emme Davis serving gave the Lady Pack a 22-17 lead, and it closed out to force a fifth set.

Washington felt good about its 4-1 start to the tiebreaker. Northside didn’t let it get away. The Lady Panthers didn’t fall behind by more than three. Consecutive kills by Brooklyn Hudnell produced a 9-7 lead. The Lady Pack tied it twice down the stretch, but couldn’t muster much more in a 15-11 loss.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Leathers said. “It’s something we can ride and build on.”

Fatigue was apparent in the later stages of the match. Washington was coming off a five-set win against South Lenoir the day before. The girls were mentally and physically worn down by the end.

“I know if I’m exhausted, the girls are exhausted,” Hihn said. “After playing five games (Tuesday) and playing another five, I know that had to take a toll on them not only physically, but mentally. There were a couple of times they beat themselves.”

Washington will get another shot at Northside next Wednesday. It will face similar hurdles as it travels out to South Lenoir for the backend of their 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference home-and-home series.

Northside hosts South Creek on Thursday. It will welcome in Tarboro for 1-A Coastal Plains Conference action on Tuesday before taking on the Lady Pack again.