BOONVILLE — The newly-crowned Mountain Valley Conference champions kicked off their return to the 1A playoff picture in a big way Saturday morning.
Starmount swept Mount Airy in convincing fashion in the playoff opener in Boonville, 25-14, 25-18, 25-9.
Despite the sweep, Head Coach Jon Symons believes his team can play more efficient.
“Sloppy win,” he said. “We had 12 service errors and we gave away points. I think we can play a lot more efficient than the way we played today.
“I am very happy for the win and I think some of our younger girls stepped up; Alli St. John played great today. But I thought as a team we could be more efficient and that we were a little sloppy,” he continued.
The Lady Rams stormed out of the gate in the first game, scoring nine of the first 11 points, leading to a quick Mount Airy timeout.
Starmount continued to add onto its advantage going up 22-8 late in the set. After the Granite Bears trimmed the deficit down to 23-14, Hunter Welborn slammed her seventh kill of the game to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Mount Airy responded in the second set and trailed the Rams just 8-7 midway through leading to a timeout. Coming out of the break, Starmount reeled off seven of the next eight points to grab a 15-8 lead.
Welborn once again finished things off with another kill, 25-18, to give the Rams a 2-0 overall lead in the match.
Starmount regrouped and jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead behind three straight aces by St. John. The Rams continued to build on their cushion in a dominating game, pushing their advantage out to 18-9 behind a block-kill by Welborn and Erin Barr.
Starmount put the finishing touches on the sweep with an Ashley Johnson kill, winning 25-9 in the final game.
Symons believed defensive changes the team made to neutralize Granite Bear star Kathryn Beasley proved to be the difference late in the second game and the third game.
“I thought we started getting touches on the ball defensively later in game two and three. If you don’t get a touch on the ball, you’re making your defense play that much harder,” he explained. “We have girls who can block, and that’s going to help take the pressure off our defense.”
Beasley was recognized for her stellar career at Mount Airy late in the match, being substituted when the Rams hit 24 in the final game. The senior received a standing ovation from both teams and the crowd, while hugging each of her teammates and coaches.
Welborn led the way with 19 kills in the match, while Haley Hartman added six. Erin Barr recorded 27 assists, while St. John went 22-for-23 on serves with seven aces, three kills and four blocks. Alli Jones was 13-for-14 behind the serving line with eight digs.
The Rams (22-6) will return to the court Tuesday night in the second round of the playoffs against East Surry looking to be “more efficient.”
“The longer you go in the state playoffs, the more efficient you have to be. You have to learn to finish people, and if you aren’t efficient and if you give teams second chances, you probably won’t get a second chance back. That’s what it comes down to,” Symons added.
“Hopefully we learned our lesson, but we’ll find out Tuesday against East Surry.”
The Cards (22-6) knocked off West Stanly in straight sets in their opener Saturday.
The match begins at 6 p.m.
In East Bend, Forbush kicked off 2A playoff action with a hard-fought 3-1 upset victory over Mount Pleasant on the road.
The Lady Falcons advance to play former Mountain Valley Conference rival North Wilkes Tuesday in Hays.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.