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KENLY — A crisp, efficient Hunt High varsity volleyball team made a brief appearance in the opening set of Tuesday’s nonconference match at North Johnston.
In that span, the Lady Warriors stampeded out to an 18-1 lead and appeared poised to make quick work of their hosts. But as that team asserted its dominance in passing, setting, hitting and defense, it just as quickly left the building as errors, both of the mental and physical variety, set in.
North Johnston rebounded to win the second set, and actually held a lead in the third. But Hunt won the third set, and finally awoke from its slumber late in the fourth set to pull away for a 25-12, 22-25, 25-18, 25-18 victory before a docile group of attendees in the Lady Panthers’ gym.
Hunt of the 3-A Big East Conference climbed to 3-5, while the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Lady Panthers slid to 3-3.
“All season, we’ve had complacent moments,” Hunt assistant coach Matt Lemmons said. “Moments where it’s like they just get lazy and take things for granted. We’re really working on keeping the motors high and playing strong volleyball from the first serve until the last point is done. Once we get there, we’ll be the team we’ve seen the past few years. But, it’s a work in progress.”
Behind junior Meghan Martinez, junior Alea Jones and junior Greysen Evans, Hunt recorded kills on five of its first nine points to take a 9-1 lead. Evans’ ace forced a North Johnston timeout as part of a whopping 15-0 run off her serve. Only a Jessie Wall kill ended the mammoth run before Hunt took a 21-4 lead. But from there, errors crept into the Lady Warriors’ attack — both of the attack and serving variety. Thanks to six errors from Hunt, North Johnston closed to within 24-12 before Evans put down a kill to assure Hunt of the opening set.
Hunt’s bad habits did not abate in the second set as the North Johnston offense began to function behind Jessie Wall, Blayke Batten and Lindsey Massengill.
North Johnston claimed a 16-11 lead midway through the set, only to see Hunt’s Jones pull the Lady Warriors within a point. From 24-19, Hunt erased three set points on a Jones kill, an attack error and Evans’ kill. But Batten’s kill ended the set and put the Lady Panthers on even terms.
“One of the things we’re talking about is not creating our own errors,” North Johnston head coach Nicole Davis said. “Making the smart play, and taking the gifts that our team has. It’s obvious that we’re not super tall or anything like that, but we do have kids on the team that are very athletic. And they’re smart kids. So we’ve talked a lot about using our athleticism, being smart, talking together and doing the little things well. Because we are not somebody that’s up in your face and hitting balls down your throat.”
While the Lady Panthers don’t boast such a presence, Hunt does with its middle-blocking presence in Jones. Although Jones’ physical blocks were limited on the stat sheet, her presence influenced Batten, Massengill and company to send the ball short and into the net.
As Hunt owned an 11-10 lead in the third set, the serving of junior setter Brianna Moore boosted the Lady Warriors to an 18-10 lead. During the run, North Johnston did itself no favors with attack miscues. North Johnston closed to as little as four points at 19-15, but consecutive errors gave the third set to the Lady Warriors.
Hunt threatened to turn the fourth set into a runaway at 10-4, but errors allowed North Johnston to climb back to within 10-9. The Lady Panthers remained close on Jordyn Scott’s kill and a Hunt error to make it 15-13, but Hunt kicked off a 7-0 run that was sparked by Jones’ presence at the net. Evans served Hunt to a 22-13 lead in the fourth with a run that included a pair of aces.
“We played pretty good,” Evans said. “But we need to keep our level of play up. We don’t get hyped enough, so we need to make our level of play intense.
Martinez, who thrived on the outside for Hunt, smashed a kill to end the match.
Lemmons, assuming head coaching duties in the absence of Tiffany Rowe, who recently gave birth, assured that Hunt’s 18-1 start in the opening set was the best the Lady Warriors have looked all season.
“Overall, I’m proud of the girls,” Lemmons said. “I thought we swung very well hitting wise, especially from our outside hitters. But we’ve really, really have got to clean up our serving. Way too many service errors. I don’t know how many there were, but there had to be double digits.”