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Big East breakthrough for Hunt

Lady Warriors end Franklinton’s unbeaten conference run in four sets

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Around the 3-A Big East Conference in the sport of varsity volleyball, the understanding was that a brilliant performance by the opposition would be needed to end Franklinton’s undefeated conference run.

Well, spectacular got it done for a host Hunt High squad that was observing Senior Night on Wednesday evening.

Buoyed by the opening two sets that left head coach Tiffany Rowe gushing, the Lady Warriors conquered Franklinton 25-10, 25-23, 18-25, 26-14 — dealing the Lady Red Rams their first regular-season conference loss after 28 wins. Including a pair of tournament championships, Franklinton entered 32-0 against Big East opposition and only Hunt, in 2018, claimed as many as two sets.

The regular season concludes Thursday with Hunt and Franklinton, in its third year in the Big East, deadlocked for the conference lead at 8-1. The Lady Warriors vaulted to 13-6 overall, while Franklinton lost for just the second time in 18 matches.

“It’s amazing, really!” Rowe exclaimed. “This is really what sports is all about. My seniors really stepped up and were leaders. To get a win against Franklinton on Senior Night is a great win. For me, it’s a proud moment that the girls set this goal for themselves — and accomplished that goal.”

Meghan Martinez led a senior sextet that included Greysen Evans, Alea Jones, Brianna Moore, Stephanie Olivera and Ashanti Edmundson.

“I’m so great right now!” Martinez, searching for adequate words, offered. “Absolutely! This is easily the best volleyball we have played since the start of the season until now. We knew we could do it. I said before the jayvee game that we were going to win, and everybody else had the same feeling.

“The ‘want’ from everybody really helped us. And we played 10 times better. We didn’t want to lose — especially on Senior Night.”

Nonetheless, Franklinton caused the Lady Warriors some anxious moments.

Behind the hitting of 5-foot-11 senior Rebekah Smith, 5-10 junior Sarah Dodrill and freshman De’Nyla Harlan, the Lady Rams surged to an 8-3 start in the third set. Hunt crept as close as 9-6 and 13-9 before the errors and miscommunication piled u. Finally, the Lady Warriors closed the deficit to 24-18 before a mishit forced the fourth set.

“We were down a little bit,” Martinez admitted, “and we were saying why we did we play that badly. We did play better at the end, and the end play carried to the fourth set.”

The Lady Warriors bolted to a 6-3 cushion, forcing a Franklinton time-out. The advantage reached 9-4, 12-6 and 14-9 — resulting in Franklinton’s final time-out. Kills from 5-10 freshman Alex Williams boosted Hunt to a 22-13 margin.

However, miscommunication surfaced and the Lady Rams, behind Smith and junior libero Shelby Sykora, surged to 22-22, 23-23, and 24-24 ties, forcing a Hunt time-out in the process. Martinez and Franklinton junior Kelsie Pender exchanged kills for the 24-24 standoff.

Then, Hunt’s Jones slammed the go-ahead kill and the match ended with a Lady Rams’ dig attempt plowing into the net.

“We have been talking a lot about mentality,” Rowe said in noting Hunt’s grit, “and about how to stay positive and respond — even when we get down. We aren’t giving up, no matter what. We are looking to the next ball.”

Expressed Franklinton head coach Tom Harris: “I told the girls that, at some point, you can’t go and stay undefeated. The conference is getting better.

“Kudos to Hunt; they were riding high on Senior Night. They played absolutely their best. They served well, hit well, serve-received and got digs up like they didn’t before.”

Harris said the defense was off and his Lady Rams did not pass well.

“We had a lot of blocking errors, and blocking sets the tone,” he contended. That kept encouraging them to swing, and they swung well. They played great and this was not one of our best performances.”

Hunt dazzled in the opening set and, in the second set, the lineup of Martinez, Evans, Moore, junior Kinslee Braddy, Jones and junior Taylor Collins was unstoppable.

Braddy and Moore responded with sensational digs. Evans, who flourished early, served Hunt to a 20-11 margin. Franklinton, however, dug in behind sophomore McKenzie Hill’s serving and Harlan’s kills and whittled the deficit to 21-16, Despite Smith being basically a non-factor the first two sets, Franklinton axed the deficit to 24-23 befdore Williams’ block sent Hunt to a 2-0 lead.

“We worked so hard to come out strong,” Rowe declared.

Martinez supplied 15 kills, while Jones and Williams drilled eight each and Evans and Collins seven each. Moore kept Franklinton off-balance with her 37 assists. Evans served for six aces and Collins for four.

Of course, Martinez viewed the afternoon as the crowning moment in her career.

But to no worse than share the regular-season title with Franklinton, Hunt must reign against archrival and host Fike on Thursday afternoon. Franklinton attempts to rebound at Southern Nash.

“We are ready to go,” declared the smiling Rowe. “We have gone through lows to get to this point. We needed all our players to play well, and we got good play from the outside, the middle and at the net. I want the girls to continue playing like they’re playing.”

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