Starmount spikers clinch conference title
BOONVILLE -- Starmount's volleyball team takes defending its home court seriously.
Successful homeland security in Thursday night's regular-season home finale against North Surry gave the Rams the opportunity to play at home several more times through the playoffs.
Starmount's 25-13, 17-25, 25-23, 25-18 triumph over the Greyhounds locked up a second-straight outright conference championship. The reward is a No. 1 seed for next week's Mountain Valley 2A Conference tournament and a guaranteed No. 1 seed for the state playoffs, no matter how the league tourney turns out.
Had North Surry won Thursday, the Greyhounds would have taken those two coveted prizes.
"That was of utmost importance," Rams coach Jon Symons said following Thursday's match, which resembled a playoff contest in terms of intensity, level of play and crowd excitement.
"That's what you work for. You work to try to set yourself up for a state playoff run. Fortunately, we've been able to do that this season. We're the one seed, and that means we're home all the way through to the semifinals if -- and that's a big, capital, bold-print if -- we get to the semis."
Starmount honored its six seniors before Thursday's action -- Jordan Raye, Jana Matthews, Meme Brown, Taylor Moxley, Rachel Dobson and Lauren Cook. And in the early going once play began, the Rams rode the emotions of senior night to a dominating performance.
Matthews pulverized a ball for a 7-2 lead. Matthews and Raye then confounded the Hounds from behind the service line, as the cushion eventually grew to 15-4, forcing North Surry coach Shane Slate to call two timeouts.
Starmount led by as many as 15 points, 20-5, before the Greyhounds brought their deficit under 10. But it was too little too late, and the Rams closed out the first game looking ready at that point to roll to another 3-0 sweep.
But the couple minute delay between games seemed to sap some of Starmount's energy, while North Surry revived.
The result was a near total reversal, with North Surry getting untracked and turning a 7-7 game into a 15-8 lead. Two kills followed by an ace from Emily Culler gave the 'Hounds a 21-10 lead, which Starmount couldn't reel back in.
"For us, it's all about sustaining intensity," Symons said. "If we can sustain, then we are tough to beat. But we dropped down."
North Surry proved a pesky foe in game three, recovering after falling behind 6-1 to tie things up at 9-9.
A Matthews' ace jump-started an 8-0 run for the Rams, which eventually put them on top 20-14.
North Surry fought off four game points to pull within 24-23, but Matthews pounded another ball for a winner coming out of a timeout to end the set. North Surry got a block up on Matthews but the tipped ball sailed out of bounds.
"We as a team tend to let off the gas pedal," Matthews said. "We just need to pick it up and stay up the whole time, and not let up on the gas."
The Rams accelerated again to start game four and while the motor sputtered a little in the middle of the set, they refused to be caught again. Culler had an ace to make it 5-4 Starmount, but that would be as close as the Greyhounds would get the rest of the night.
Starmount reeled off six points in a row with Matthews behind the service line, getting a giant kill from Brown for one of those points.
North Surry broke that run but Starmount answered with another mini-surge to pull out to a 13-5 lead.
Credit the pesky Greyhounds, who lost only to Starmount in conference play this season, for not going away quietly.
North Surry pulled to within 14-11, but then a couple of the Rams' non-seniors came up big to halt the 'Hounds.
Rosie Crissman delivered a kill between two blocks. She and Brinsley Stewart then blocked a North Surry hit for another point. Raye set up Crissman again, and she delivered another hard-hit shot that the Greyhounds deflected out of bounds.
That sequence put the Rams ahead 18-11, just enough cushion to pull out the match.
"Rosie has worked real hard to get where she is," Symons said. "When kids that aren't the dominant hitters contribute, it brings everybody's level up, and that's what it was for us."
North Surry battled back to within 18-16, getting Symons nervous about his team running out of gas for a fifth set. But the Rams were able to hold their visitors off. An unreturnable jump serve by Matthews closed the match, bringing both celebration and relief to the Starmount sidelines.
"We were pumped pretty much all week," Raye said. "Symons said all week how bad he wanted to beat North Surry. We had to pick our game up and we did at the end."
Brown (22 kills) and Matthews (18 kills) provided a big chunk of the offense. Matthews had two aces from the service line but most importantly, she never missed a serve in 26 tries. She also had 18 digs on defense.
Brown had four aces, three blocks on one dig.
Raye made three kills, served up three aces, made eight digs and had 42 assists.
Brett Doss (four kills, one dig) and Crissman (three kills, two blocks, three digs) also recorded winners on offense. Taylor Moxley led the team with five aces. She also had 18 digs. Ashley Wilkins, Rachel Dobson and Lauren Cook had two digs each.
Another gift of Thursday's win is getting a bye from the first round of the conference tournament.
The Rams will get an automatic berth into next week's semifinals, facing either No. 4 Ashe County or No. 5 North Wilkes. No. 2 North Surry will open against No. 7 Surry Central, with the winner of that match facing either No. 3 Forbush or No. 6 Wilkes Central in the other semifinal.
The semifinals and championship rounds will be played at North Surry, so winning a third-straight MVAC tournament title likely will require Starmount to beat the Greyhounds again. This time, they'll be the visitors, forced to win on someone else's home court.
The Rams don't seem to mind that prospect one bit.
"We hope we play them again in the conference tournament," Raye said.
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