Rams and Falcons Sparkle in Volleyball - TribPapers

Rams and Falcons Sparkle in Volleyball

West Henderson leading hitter Caitlyn O’Kelly leaps and taps a winner over South Rowan. West won that playoff opener. Falcons include Thorsland (14), Carley Raleigh (23) and Amber Huard (11).


T.C. Roberson and West Henderson paced local volleyball squads in the regular season and then into state playoffs last week.

Roberson (21-2) won the 4A/3A Mountain Athletic Conference with a perfect 12-0 mark. The Rams are now a 4A school. Michelle Wagaman coaches them.

The Rams opened playoffs by blanking Olympic 3-0 on Oct. 23. The Rams won two of three in playing every other day last week. The Rams triumphed 3-1 over East Forsyth, and vanquished Weddington 3-0. But they lost 3-0 to Watauga Saturday. Watauga (22-4) is the only team to defeat TCR this year. The Pioneers won in five sets Oct. 20, also in Skyland. They thereby dealt TCR its sole loss in a regular season in which TCR shut out 16 of 18 victims.

Last season Roberson went 16-2 and won three playoff matches to reach state semifinals.

This fall top MAC finishers are TCR (12-0), Enka (18-6; 10-2 MAC), and North Buncombe (14-6; 7-5), Asheville (6-6) then Reynolds (5-7). Enka shut out McDowell then North Lincoln 3-0 in playoffs, then lost 3-1 to North Henderson. NBHS and AHS bowed out in round one. Owen (11-11) was 7-5 and third in its league.

West Henderson (21-5), still 3A, cruised to the crown with its return to what is the all-3A Mountain Seven Conference. The Falcons opened playoffs by defeating South Rowan of China Grove by a 3-1 count. But then last Thursday they fell at home 3-2 to Fred T. Foard Tigers from Newton. Foard won the 2A state title a season ago.

Coach Tiffany Lowrance’s squad was the MAC’s second seed and won two rounds in the prior post-season that concluded in January.

This fall West won the M7 ahead of North Henderson (22-6; 10-2 M7). The Knights beat Rockingham County 3-0 then Enka in playoffs, before falling 3-1 to West Rowan last Thursday.

West fell 3-0 both to TCR and to Hendersonville (13-9 ; 9-4) in the regular season. HHS was second behind Brevard (19-6, 11-1) in Mountain Foothills standings. BHS won three playoff matches. The Bearcats dropped their playoff opener 3-1 to Patton.


Both teams have dynamic hitters and other skilled contributors. Roberson’s Mackenzie Lynch is listed at 6-feet-2 and looks an inch taller. Call her “Sledgehammer” for her heavy slams (“kills”). The senior pounded 295 kills in he first 53 games (“sets”) through Oct. 17, to average 5.6 per set. She converts nearly half (48.4 percent) of her slam attempts.

The team has a 47.7 percent accuracy rate. Freshman Karlie Henning and six-foot sophomore Amelia Novak were on fire in recent matches with many kills. Six-foot junior Tymber Thompson is among key returnees for 2022.

Lynch delivers on average more than 22.4 percent of the team’s winning shots per set by kills. That is because 25 is the winning number per set — other than a fifth set which goes to 15 and winning by two. Since TCR scored fewer than 25 when losing a few sets, her ratio rises in those lost sets. Further, any non-slam winner by Lynch raises her proportion of winning shots.

Lynch made 30 blocks — 10 solo. 

Lynch served 37 aces (17.3%) and Emerson Hoyle blasted 35 aces (14.8 %) in 55 sets.

Hoyle is a primary setter. She made 32 assists (0.6 per set) and merely one error in 132 chances — otherwise keeping the ball in play. Hoyle led TCR with 244 retrievals (“digs“) at 4.4 per set, while Lynch made 162 (3.1) with her long reach. Hoyle returned serves in bounds 244 times (4.3 per set), and Lynch did so 167 times (3.2).

Falcon Frenzy

West Henderson averages 11.6 kills per set. That is nearly half of a 25-point set win.

The leading Falcon hitter is Caitlyn O’Kelly with 280 kills in 78 sets through all but two of the later contests. She averages 3.6 slams per set. Her conversion rate is 42.7 percent.

Another six footer — slender freshman Emma Bryson — had a career day with a team-most 21 kills versus South Rowan. She has 50.7 kill accuracy. She is second with 218 kills (3.1 per set) in 69 sets played — counting all but two matches. She leads West with 71 blocks (1.1 per set) and 37 aces.

“We were fighting” point to point, Bryson said after victory over South Rowan. “We wanted it.”

Emma is the youngest in her family. Her brother Ben was a recent star Falcon point guard. Their parents are Joey and April Bryson, both longtime West teachers. Joey was West’s star shooting guard in the mid-Nineties. His teammates included current West principal Luke Manuel. Luke’s sophomore son Truitt Manuel had a career football receiving day with five TDs and 220 yards in the recent 40-34 OT upset of Franklin.

West as usual has superb hitting balance with six players registering more than 50 kills thus far. They include seniors Amber Huard (99) and Kera Putnam (88), and juniors Carley Raleigh (77) and Jen McNamara (62).

Setter Raleigh averages 9.1 assists per set and has more than 600. She has made merely 17 errant shots in 1,581 ball-handling chances.

Five Falcons served at least 24 aces — Bryson, Raleigh, Huard, and juniors Payton Brown and Mia Christ. West’s four leading diggers are Christ (229), Huard (196), Brown (169) and Raleigh (139). Top serve returners are Huard (289) and Christ (241).

Brown’s slam got the team going in the final set against South Rowan. Later her kill was the match-winning point. West scored five points in a row late to prevail. Brown said that in such “tight” matches, the team typically played its best. Coach Lowrance said the squad’s “passion for the game” carried them to greater achievement.

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