Raiders oust Wildcats to reach state quarterfinals
Whichever team could take the first set Thursday between Southern Vance and Bunn was going to have a good shot at winning the match.
The Northern Carolina Conference rivals scratched and clawed for every point as the Raiders ultimately outlasted the Wildcats 33-31 before taking the next two sets with relative ease.
Southern head coach April Abbott was eager for the grueling opener to end regardless of the outcome.
“They were giving everything they had,” said Abbott. “I knew they were going to wear themselves out. I thought whoever won that first set was going to take the match. It was so intense and it was so much heart from both teams put into that game.”
No. 2 Southern (19-5) advanced to the quarterfinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A playoffs with the 3-0 (33-31, 25-18, 25-13) win over No. 3 Bunn (18-7).
Southern, two wins from the state championship match, hasn’t lost a set three rounds into their first playoff appearance since 2009.
The Raiders will visit No. 1 South Granville (24-5) Saturday with a regionals berth on the line. The Vikings won at top-seeded Elizabeth City Northeastern (16-3) Thursday in five sets.
Southern has three losses this season to league rival South Granville, which appeared in last year’s 2-A final.
Bunn head coach Henry Jones said the Raiders, who took three of four matches against the Wildcats, have what it takes to pull off the upset.
“I told everybody who cared to hear that this is the most athletic team in the conference,” said Jones, who wrapped up his 19th season at Bunn. “If they decide to play together, they can beat anybody. I know they can beat South Granville, but South Granville plays as one. The other five know what the other one is doing. This team can be the same way if they stay focused.”
Focus following the marathon first game Thursday proved to be crucial.
Kiyanna Kearney landed a kill and Bree Simmons came up with a block to clinch the final two points of the first set for Southern, which overcame six missed serves.
The Raiders led by as many as nine points in the second set before jumping out to a 10-1 advantage in the third game.
“At the beginning of the season, if we would have had that game, we would have lost,” Abbott said, referring to the opening set. “They have gotten a lot better mentally.”
Kearney finished with 12 kills, three aces and two blocks and sophomore Brittany West led the team with 14 kills, adding four aces. Megan Hight had eight kills and three blocks, Allyson Dunn recorded 17 digs and Simmons tallied 36 assists.
South Granville claimed the last meeting over Southern 3-0 (25-19, 29-27, 26-24) in the conference tourney final.
Abbott said her team was hoping for a rematch with the Vikings.
“Just because each time we played them we competed better with them,” said Abbott. “They know they can. They mentally have gotten tougher and I think that will help them against South Granville.”
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