There’s a new dimension of winning for the Orange volleyball program.

They’ve been successful, with winning seasons each of the last four years and state playoff victories in 2021 and 2022.

Now, it’s a whole new level. The Lady Panthers are ranked #1 in the current 3A East RPI rankings, a first in school history. They’re also in first place in the Central Carolina Conference. For years, Cardinal Gibbons stood in the way of the Lady Panthers for a league title in the 2A ranks. For the past three years, the Lady Panthers have played second fiddle to Cedar Ridge in the CCC.

That’s not the case in 2023, at least at the moment. Orange is 5-0 in the CCC with the second half of the conference slate set to start on Thursday night. On Wednesday, Orange stepped outside of conference play to face the top-ranked team in the 1A East RPI rankings. While Falls Lake ended Orange’s streak of 32 consecutive victorious sets, the Firebirds didn’t end the Lady Panther winning streak.

After Falls Lake (9-3) captured the first set, Orange responded with wins in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th to clinch its 12th straight win inside Panther Gymnasium. The Lady Panthers (14-3), who defeated Falls Lake in Creedmoor on August 24, prevailed on scores of 18-25, 25-19, 25-21 and 25-18.

Senior Ella Wimsatt finished with 16 kills and 18 digs. Sophomore Katie Silcott finished with 34 assists and eight digs. Another sophomore, Aubrey Jordan, had ten kills and two blocks.

There were four lead changes in the opening set. Orange started on an 9-6 run after an ace by Josie Crawford, which led to a Firebird time out. Falls Lake went on an 9-1 run to take a 22-16 lead, which included two kills by senior co-Captain Anna Holcombe, as well as points by junior Jenae Mason and sophomore Tess DeZurik. Mason had back-to-back kills assisted by Gemma Ines, leading to set point which was sent long on an attack attempt by Orange.

The Firebirds started strong in the second set, building an 8-1 lead behind three straight kills by Holcombe, which led to a timeout by Orange coach Hope Heverly. The Lady Panthers responded with a 14-2 run to take a 20-13 lead. Wimsatt took control of the set, which he racked up eight kills, six digs and two aces. At one point, Wimsatt had three straight kills to give Orange a 15-12 lead. Jordan notched consecutive points assisted by Silcott to increase the Lady Panther advantage to 20-13. Wimsatt evened the match when she spiked home a point on set point.

In the third set, Orange built a 14-5 lead following an ace by Abby Silinski and consecutive kills by Wimsatt and Mariah Poole. It appeared would blow out the Firebirds after an ace by Silcott put Orange ahead 22-11, but the Firebirds scored ten straight points. Kelcey Peterson’s kill and a return by Orange that went wide narrowed the Lady Panther lead to 22-21. Orange sophomore Ava Wilkerson, who finished with nine kills, scored a crucial point that led to an Orange side out. Wilkerson ended the set with a kill on set point assisted by Silcott at the net.

Orange led 8-7 when they went on a 7-3 spurt to take control of the fourth set. Jordan and sophomore Mariah Poole had back-to-back blocks to give Orange a 15-9 lead. Wimsatt had a wild dig off an attack from Holcombe that led to a kill from Jordan, which led to a Falls Lake timeout. Orange took its largest advantage of the set at 22-14 off an ace by Silcott. Wimatt’s fifth kill of the frame came on match point.

Orange will conclude a three-match homestead when they face Western Alamance on Thursday night (tonight) in Hillsborough. The Lady Panthers swept the Warriors in Elon on August 29.


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