State tournaments can be a cruel thing. Especially when the stakes are high.
On Tuesday night at Cedar Ridge High, two volleyball teams entered the 3-A Eastern Regional Final on 17-game winning streaks. Cedar Ridge had romped through the Big 8 Conference undefeated, not having lost a set since October 8. Asheboro roared through the Mid-Piedmont Conference, having lost just one set in its first four playoff matches.
Somebody’s season had to end. And Cedar Ridge’s number proved to be up.
The Blue Comets defeated the Red Wolves 3-1 to win the 3-A Eastern Regional Championship at Red Wolves Gymnasium on scores of 25-23, 25-23, 23-25 and 25-23. Cedar Ridge ends the season 24-4.
Vollyeball isn’t supposed to be a sport of the elements. Its indoors, thus it’s climate controlled. At least it’s supposed to be.
Not on Tuesday night. The standing room only crowd representing both schools constantly tried to drown the other out with chants. The mild November night led to a sultry, humid gymnasium that forced the players to constantly trade balls before serves because the moisture had built up. Reporters from six different newspapers were stationed at courtside.
It was heat. It was intensity. It was something that Cedar Ridge, with all of two seniors, wasn’t used to.
“It’s hard to get over the hoopla,” said Cedar Ridge coach Charlie Oakley. “The crowd, the photographers, and the newspaper reporters. They handled it better than we did. We came out nervous. Asheville is a great team and they deal with it.”
No team led any set by more than five points. When Asheboro needed points, they turned to the serve of Destinee Goldston. In the fourth set, there were 13 ties and eight lead changes. Asheboro got the ball back after a kill by Salem Davidson. Goldston served consecutive points to give the Blue Comets a 24-23 lead. Asheboro took the win after Goldston’s serve led to a Red Wolf set error, sparking a wild celebration by the Blue Comets players.
Cedar Ridge had a season-high 23 attacking errors. Meg Anderson finished with 12 kills, while Asha Barnes had 11. Lily Henry finished with 19 assists.
The Blue Comets roared out to a 2-0 lead. In the first set, Asheboro jumped out to a 9-5 lead before Cedar Ridge mounted a 7-1 run to even the match at 16. Asheboro came back with seven straight points, all of them from the serve of Goldston. Davidson spiked home set point.
The second set was tied nine times, but Asheboro led most of the way behind kills from senior Ballie Gordon and 6’2 junior Megan Banker.
Cedar Ridge’s only set win came in the third. Meg Anderson scored the kill off an assist from Henry to make the match 2-1. The Red Wolves were three points away from forcing a 5th set, but it was not to be.
Afterwards, seniors Barnes and Courtney Eckmann embraced and shared tears and final memories. They had just played their final game together at Cedar Ridge.
The tournament can be cruel, leaving behind only memories. The good news for Cedar Ridge is the memories they leave behind this year are pleasant ones that will last forever.