Lady Panthers hitting well as they hit their stride

Published 3:07 pm Monday, September 18, 2017

PINETOWN — To say Northside has hit it stride is an understatement. The Lady Panthers got their season started a bit later than other schools in the area. The campaign began with a 3-1 loss at 1-A Coastal Plains Conference foe Riverside.

Northside has won its five games since then. Four of those victories came against Beaufort County rivals Washington and Southside. The Lady Panthers are 3-0 on their home court, which they’ll have to defend against two of the conference’s top teams — Pamlico County and Riverside — by the end of the month.

A common theme has been Northside’s ability to hit the ball. It’s started with serving. Savannah Slade’s jumping serve is distinct in its own way. Fellow senior Brooklyn Hudnell is about as consistent as they come. She gave Northside a quick start in the second and third sets of last week’s win at Southside.

Hudnell’s three-straight aces gave the Lady Panthers a 3-0 lead right away in the second set. Then, in the third set, she had five aces to help Northside build an 11-0 lead out of the gate.

“I feel good about anybody serving the ball. We work hard at it every day,” coach Michelle Leathers said. “I have faith in all of them when they get up there to serve it.”

Faith is something that comes with experience. Slade and Hudnell are two of six seniors on the squad. Emori Smith has been consistent in distributing the ball, as have junior Logan Jefferson and sophomore Grace Armstrong.

“I feel like we’re very strong serving the ball. We’ve always been strong serving the ball. They have a hard time returning it,” Smith said. Northside’s composure while serving in high-pressure situations was a major component in its season sweep of Washington.

When the opponent is able to return it, Northside’s front-row players are able to get what they want at the front of the net. In their win over Southside, the Lady Panthers were able to coordinate themselves well to set up their offense. It kept the Lady Seahawks on the defensive for the majority of the match.

Armstrong and Slade provide much of the team’s power in the front. Both have shown they can hit hard with accuracy. Few have been as accurate as Smith, though. She’s able to hit with power, too, but has shown smarts in the way she reads opponents. She’s as effective with her finesse in tipping the ball into an empty section of the court as she is drilling it toward the floor.

Northside travels to take on a struggling Jones Senior team on Tuesday. It will host Pamlico County on Thursday and then Riverside on Sept. 26. The Lady Hurricanes and Lady Knights have combined for nearly 20 wins already. That two-game stretch will play a determining factor in whether or not the Lady Panthers can contend for a conference championship.