Sports

‘Phi Rama Slama’: TCR Blasts into Playoffs

Julia Bankard (12) of TCR smacks a winning “hit,” against Tuscola.

SkylandT.C. Roberson unleashes a state championship-caliber volleyball squad of tall athletes in playoffs this week.

The Lady Rams have a half-dozen six-footers on their veteran roster. The program’s sole state volleyball crown was 42 years ago, in 1979. The banner in the gym calls the squad “Ramettes” — a phrase long obsolete.

Instead, try a nickname of Phi Rama Slama as a spin-off on Phi Slama Jama, the 1982-84 University of Houston team of Clyde Drexler and other basketball dunkers. TCR head coach Michelle Cadavid Wagaman chuckled at that suggested nickname. She is in her tenth season at the helm.

Nearly half of TCR varsity — five of seven players — are six-footers. Senior Isabella Field and junior Mackenzie Lynch are each about six-foot-two. Others also leap toward the rafters and drill the ball past foes.

Roberson (13-1) hosted tenth seed Crest (9-2) Tuesday in 3A as playoffs began statewide, and was on track to play at second seed Sun Valley Thursday, Jan. 14.

TCR is seeded seventh in the West Region, was ranked seventh in the entire state, and was among the state’s last unbeaten until its latest match.

The Lady Rams closed its regular season with a 3-1 (23-25, 26-24, 19-25, 22-25) loss at fourth seed Cox Mill (14-0), on Wednesday, Jan. 6. TCR was the first team the Lady Chargers did not shut out and kept each “set” (game) close. The defeat came two days after TCR beat fifth-place Tuscola (6-6) by 3-1, to finish unbeaten at 13-0 in the area’s elite Western Mountain Athletic Conference.

The Girls shut out seven of their first ten victims. They clobbered Tuscola 25-7 in the opening set and raced to a 20-7 lead in the 25-12 clincher. Lynch starred all-around with 18 kills (slams), 22 digs (retrievals) and ten service aces. Field delivered 13 kills and four blocks. Julia Bankard had 12 kills. Emerson Hoyle made 25 digs.

Coach Wagaman said her Lady Rams “work together” to keep improving in practice, and are cohesively in plays during matches. They are athletic and overpower foes with pure “physical strength” and timing, and keep the ball in play defensively, she added. She said against THS, serving was better than usual and propelled decisive runs.

Having to wear sanitary masks, it is harder for players to hear each other during play and they cannot see lips to read them. But Lady Rams compensate by gesturing and using hand signals more than usual, Wagaman said. For instance, setters Ella Jansen and Emma Youngblood position others for where to be for set passes. Or when seeing where foes are setting up a kill, a player waves teammates to where to best block the shot.

Wagaman scheduled the challenging playoff tuneup with Cox Mill, a team it could face in the 3A playoffs. The match was in the place of the WMAC contest with West Henderson. That one had to be canceled, with West in a two-week quarantine after one of its players tested positive for COVID-19. D.H. Conley (10-1) is the East’s top 3A seed.

Mackenzie Lynch digs to keep the point going for Roberson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Mackenzie Lynch digs to keep the point going for Roberson.

West, NHHS, HHS, Owen Make Playoffs

West’s 9-1 was cleared to return to action Monday with a practice, principal Luke Manuel noted, and to open playoffs at Concord (7-4) as the ninth seed. North Henderson (10-3), the 16th seed, had to go up to the number one seed Watauga (10-1).

NHHS opened the new year by shutting out A.C. Reynolds on the road then North Buncombe at home Jan. 6. The Lady Knights showed superb discipline, consistency, and enthusiasm. Their head coach, Sue Moon, said they would have to out-work Watauga to keep up.

In the regular season, six-foot senior Linnea Harris led NHHS with 180 kills to average four per set. Abey Hancock and freshman Peyton Taylor were next in kills.

Playoffs have half as many teams as usual with 16, at least in 3A. This hurt Enka (6-5), which finished fourth in the WMAC but missed playoffs.

Hendersonville (10-2) hosted Surry Central (11-3), as the sixth seed in 2A for schools with fewer students than 3A. HHS would then play at third seed West Wilkes on Thursday. The Lady Bearcats opened 2021 with shutouts of Brevard then Franklin. East Henderson (6-4) was third in Mountain Six play and 7-6 overall but did not get a playoff bid.

Ninth-seeded Owen (6-5) played at Fred T. Foard (14-0), also in 2A. In 1A, unbeaten Polk County (10-0) missed playoffs due to a reported COVID-19 outbreak.

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