NRHS’ season gets clipped short

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Nansemond River High School girls’ volleyball team advanced easily on Monday, but was confronted with the unfamiliar Tuesday night at home in the 4A South regional tournament semifinals. It faced an experienced, high-powered team from Grafton High School.

The Lady Warriors have been able to dominate opponents at will for most of the season, but fell behind quickly in the first game. They fell just shy in a hard-fought second game and ultimately saw their season end in straight sets: 18-25, 23-25, 12-25.

Nansemond River head coach Nicole Johnson did everything she could to prepare her team for what the Lady Clippers would be hitting at them. She warned her players, “‘If you guys lose, it will be because serve receive fell apart,’ and it did.”

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Grafton went on a 9-0 run to start the match, and Nansemond River had difficulty handling the Lady Clippers’ serves at different points throughout the night.

Johnson procured film on Grafton and worked with her team in practice to help it anticipate what would happen on-court, which she said did show.

The Lady Warriors were able to close the first game to 8-12 at one point and the second game was so close, it featured 14 ties.

“I think defense showed up,” she said. “We had some awesome digs.”

Senior Maddy-Grace Lavender ended up with 14 digs, senior Rachel Kent had seven, to go with five kills, two blocks and one ace and senior Victoria Newbill had four digs and five kills. Senior Tatyana Thomas contributed five blocks and eight kills.

But while Johnson could educate her team on tactics of serve receive, she said, “You can’t prepare the pressure of serve receive so much.” She saw the first game loss being mostly a result of jitters.

Another thing Nansemond River knew about was Grafton’s penchant for tips, which are light hits at the net that float over blockers and hit the floor in a pocket of empty space between the front and back rows. They proved to be effective on Tuesday, despite preparation for them.

Johnson acknowledged the Lady Clippers were a good team with a little more firepower and experience than the Lady Warriors, featuring many girls who play club outside of school. Nansemond River only has two such players. She also said they had another advantage throughout the season.

“They play a lot more competition than we did,” she said.

Despite these things, Johnson felt confident about Nansemond River’s 18-3 season and saw the potential for it to go on.

Of her players she said, “I’m really proud of them. I obviously didn’t want or expect it to end tonight. I thought we’d pull it out.”

A win would have qualified Nansemond River for the state tournament.

To get to Tuesday’s semifinal, the Lady Warriors defeated Lake Taylor High School at home in straight sets: 25-11, 25-19, 26-24.

Thomas recorded 16 kills and Kent had 11.

The team will return a couple of key players, but it loses eight seniors after this season, setting up what Johnson described as a rebuilding year in 2014.