East Flat Rock – East Henderson varsity volleyballers celebrated Christmas early by knocking off Mountain Six leader Hendersonville Dec. 21 thanks to a 10-0 run in the fifth and deciding set.
Meanwhile, T.C. Roberson, West Henderson and North Henderson are perched in the Western Mountain Athletic Conference’s automatic playoff berths. The nine WMAC schools only play each other, in a pandemic-abbreviated schedule.
Frst place Roberson and reigning conference champion West collide Friday, Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. at West. TCR earlier edged West 3-2 at home, as Coach Michelle Wagaman’s Lady Rams started 10-0.
West (8-1) won all of its other matches by 3-0 shutouts, and twice blanked A.C. Reynolds (3-7) which was third in the WMAC in ‘19-20.
The first TCR-West battle in ‘20-21 see-sawed. West won the first game (“set”) 29-27. TCR won the next two, both by 25-18. West prevailed 26-24, to knot the match at 2-2. The finale is the first to 15 points and to win by two. TCR did that, at 15-7.
West head coach Tiffany Lowrance said “we gotta play aggressive, and get points off our serves” more by keeping foes off-balance and on the defensive.
America Anderson, among West’s star hitters, credits determination “mentally. We know we have to work harder and keep getting better. We play together well.” She and Daija Jackson, also a senior, already have over 100 “kill” winning shots. Players said they soon got used to having to wear masks during play.
Knights are in a Playoff Berth
A marquee intra-county match of North Henderson at West was slated for Dec. 30. West won 3-0 (25-15, 26-24, 25-13) at NHHS on Nov. 23. West was to play at Erwin Dec. 29, then at Tuscola (5-5) Jan. 6.
North fell 3-0 (25-15, 25-18, 27-25) to TCR. But last season, veteran head coach Sue Moon’s Lady Knights were fourth in the WMAC at 10-6, and 16-20 overall. This season, they started 8-2 and shut out all eight teams they defeated. In beating taller Tuscola Dec. 18, Coach Moon credited Knights’ timing, leaping and accuracy with avoiding blocks at the net. NHHS starts 2021 at ACR on Jan. 5, then hosts North Buncombe on Jan. 6.
Beaks Beat Beekerless Bearcats
East Henderson Lady Eagles edged Hendersonville 3-2 on Dec. 21, to go to 6-4 in the M6 and close to within two games of HHS and Franklin (both 8-2).
The wild match went the distance, and featured crisp timing and ferocious shots by both sides. East took the first two sets by 25-20 tallies. But HHS won 25-16 then 25-22 to even the match, seizing momentum heading into the deciding set.
The Lady Bearcats raced to a 5-0 lead. Then East reeled off ten points in a row, capped by two slams by Clair Erwin. She led East with 15 “kills” (K).
“Clair was clutch. She made many big hits” — as did others — for critical points, East head coach Sabrina Cairnes said. “We made strong hits. Our setter (Molly Gilliam, with 45 assists and 13 digs) and defensive specialists (Rylee Gonzales and Kaitlyn McCraw) also played great. We’re well-rounded in team skill.”
Drake Waggoner (11K), a lefty, slams back across the court as the rightside hitter. She was at HHS as a freshman, and knows this rivalry well. She contributed crucial winners. “We’ve worked really hard” to fine-tune skills, and be “prepared,” Waggoner noted.
Middle hitters Sontee Moore (10K) and Molly Gilliam (7K) and outside hitters Erwin and Cameron Bailey (9k) also sparkled for East. All Lady Eagles mentioned are the eight seniors, among ten on varsity.
HHS played with eight girls, having merely one sub at a time, after recently losing four players. Most notably, 6-foot-5 Tennessee recruit Emily Beeker is out for the the season — reportedly with a vertebrae break in her back. Without her in mid-December, HHS sustained its first defeat — at Smoky Mountain (3-7).
Even minus Beeker, HHS is taller than East and a force at the net such as with Lola Sultenfuss, S.J. Shaffer and Madison Collins.
But the veteran Lady Eagles play cohesively, Coach Cairnes said. “They read each other, and feed off one another” by anticipating each other’s positioning during a point. Seven seniors have played together for six straight seasons, Cairnes noted. “Without crowds (allowed) to cheer them on, they creat their own energy.”
East, 7-5 overall, blanked Owen 2-0 on Dec. 22 in a non-M6 match.
Cairnes is a 1995 North grad. West alum Elizabeth Pippin coaches East JV. She coached East varsity for 13 seasons, to 2016. HHS alum Hailey Cook coaches the Lady Bearcats.