MOUNT AIRY — The Lady Greyhounds looked like a bona-fide state championship contender in Thursday’s de facto championship match, as North Surry completed the season sweep of Western Piedmont Athletic Conference rival Forbush, 25-15, 25-14, 25-14, and improved to 19-1 on the season.
Head coach Shane Slate’s squad hasn’t clinched its ninth consecutive conference crown yet, but at 9-0 in league action, North Surry leads both the Lady Falcons and West Stokes by two in the loss column. One more Lady Hound victory keeps the title in Toast for another year.
If North Surry keeps playing like it did on Thursday, the Lady Hounds will have a chance to bring an even more prestigious title to Toast for the first time in five years. Against Forbush, which has already beaten West Stokes and which took a set from 4A powerhouse Reagan, North looked unstoppable at times.
“We had talked about the importance of playing well in this match, and the fact that they were in second place and we could put them down two games,” said Slate. “I felt that we played as well as we have since the Watauga match earlier in the year.
“They’re a good team. They have a lot kids who know how to play; they’re physical, long, and athletic. We put three good sets together, offensively and defensively, and we didn’t let them put together any long strings of points.”
The tone was set at the start of the match and didn’t change. Forbush (10-8, 5-2 WPAC) fought hard on every point, but the Lady Hounds were as relentless as a pack of hungry wolves. After pulling away to win set one by 10 points, North Surry stayed on the attack to begin set two and scored the first five points. The Lady Falcons finally got a side-out, but three more North Surry points followed in quick succession. Down 8-1 after Paige Sizemore scored one of her team-high 11 kills from the outside left position, Forbush head coach Amber Fulk had to ask for time.
The Lady Falcons had run into a buzzsaw, but no one could question their fight. Parkley Hennings came out of the time-out and put two quick points away for Forbush. Then junior Colby Crater stepped up her game from the middle hitter position and hit two straight winners as well, keeping Forbush in the set.
But the hosts weren’t backing down. After a North Surry side-out, Martha Holt delivered back-to-back aces on outstanding serves that just cleared the net at high speed. Then Sizemore scored a block and the lead was up to 15-6. From that point on, the teams more or less traded blows, as the Lady Falcons’ Crater and Sarah Hutchens made impressive plays, only to be trumped by some powerful attacks by Johnson off strong setting from Dixie Fulk. On set point, Camille Cartwright had the winner, and the Lady Hounds were one set from the victory.
Set three was more of the same. Evann Shelnutt served an ace to open the proceedings, and the second point of the match was a back-and-forth rally in which Fulk kept setting Cartwright from the left-outside position. The first two times, the Lady Falcons made impressive digs to deny her a point, but the third try was a charm. North built a 6-1 lead before Hennings was able to put one away for her team. Johnson answered quickly for North Surry, but the Forbush sophomore standout, like her team, was down but not out. With the Lady Hounds serving at 8-3, she scored a block on Johnson.
It didn’t matter, though. North Surry had too many weapons and all of its guns were blazing. Holt fired a shot across the net at a shallow angle, just over the net and just inside the sideline. Then Sizemore put the next one away. The teams split the next 10 points and it was 15-9 when Lady Falcon senior Mackenzie Fulk served an ace, but Forbush couldn’t get any closer. North reeled off four in a row, culminating in another powerful crosscourt shot by Holt for a 20-10 lead. From there, the teams traded until North had the match victory.
North Surry had just 10 attack errors in the match and scored kills at a .337 clip. After Sizemore’s 11 kills came Cartwright with eight, Holt with six, Johnson with four, Emma Haynes with three, Dixie Fulk with two and Natalie Eaton with one. Johnson had five blocks and Sizemore three, while Shelnutt (22), Sizemore (14), Cartwright (10) and Fulk (10) led the team in digs. Fulk had 29 assists.
Forbush, whose 10-8 record is highly misleading in that it includes five losses to 4A schools and two to the Lady Hounds, steps out of conference play to host West Wilkes on Monday.
Reach John Cate via Twitter at @johncate73.