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Tigers, Red Tornadoes among volleyball squads ready for Round 2

Tigers, Red Tornadoes among volleyball squads ready for Round 2

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Finley Lefevers

Hickory's Finley Lefevers (11) reaches high in the air for the tip at the net against Watauga's Megan Patton (7) in a file photo from earlier this season. 

The second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association volleyball playoffs is scheduled for tonight, with the winners advancing to Saturday’s quarterfinal round. Five of the seven schools from the three area conferences won their first-round matches, including both Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference and all three Northwestern 3A/4A Conference schools.

Here is a preview of all five matches (stats used are submitted to MaxPreps by the teams):

2A

No. 8 Fred T. Foard (15-0) at No. 1 R-S Central (13-0)

For the second season in a row, Foard and R-S Central will meet in a 1-8 matchup in the round-of-16. However, the seeds are swapped this time and it is the Tigers that will make the trip to Rutherfordton.

The Hilltoppers were one of two teams that gave the eventual state champion Tigers a battle during the 2019 playoffs. Although Foard won in a sweep, R-S Central led the second set 23-21 before the Tigers rallied with a 5-1 run to take the set. Foard then finished off the match 25-14.

The Tigers return many of the key members from that win, including middle hitter Martina Foster, who had five kills and four blocks in the match, versatile outside hitters Michelle Thao (eight kills, 11 digs, two aces) and Megan Dorsey (eight kills, eight digs), plus both setters Haley Johnston (17 assists) and Sarah Lingle (11 assists)

Foard advanced to the second round after a win over Owen. The Tigers have won 26 in a row since October 2019, all by sweeps.

R-S Central, winners of the Southwestern 2A Conference, advanced with a 3-1 win over Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday. Junior MaKenzi Searcy leads the Hilltoppers in kills with nearly twice the number of kills as sophomore teammate Dot Norris. Another sophomore Aziyah Rudisill had 42 blocks in 13 regular season matches. Senior Katlyn Holland averages nine assists per set.

The Tigers are 71-29 all-time in playoff competition with seven state titles. A win will put them into the state quarterfinals for the fourth year in a row. Outside of a neutral court at the 2019 state championship, this will be the first road playoff match since losing to West Iredell in the 2017 2A state quarterfinals.

R-S Central (15-26 in playoff history) is in the round-of-16 for the third time in four seasons, but this has been the level that has stymied the Hilltoppers, as they have not been to the state quarterfinals since at least 2005 (the NCHSAA does not have brackets available prior to 2006).

Next up: No. 13 Patton (13-2) or No. 5 West Stokes (14-0)

No. 13 Patton (13-2) at No. 5 West Stokes (14-0)

Two seasons removed from poor records, one of these teams will get into the 2A state quarterfinals with a win tonight.

Patton was 17-70 from 2014 to 2018, but then behind Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference player of the year Ella Gragg, the Panthers made it to the quarterfinals in 2019.

For the second season in a row, Patton needed to win an extra-point set on the road to advance. Last year, the Panthers avoided a sweep with a 26-24 win in set three that set into motion a comeback win in five sets over West Stanly. This time, after losing the first set on Tuesday at East Lincoln, Patton took the second set 27-25, and the third 30-28 before putting the Mustangs away in the fourth. The Panthers are 5-8 all-time in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, West Stokes was 8-18 in 2018, but as a No. 20 seed the next year the Wildcats pulled off two road wins, including one at Maiden, to advance to the round-of-16.

West Stokes advanced with a sweep over No. 12 Oak Grove on Tuesday to improve to 7-11 in its playoff history with three of the wins coming in the last two state tournaments. The Wildcats have never played in the quarterfinal round.

Next up: No. 8 Fred T. Foard (15-0) or No. 1 R-S Central (13-0)

3A

No. 12 Hickory (10-3) at No. 4 Cox Mill (15-0)

Hickory survived an intense four-set match in the opening round and outlasted Western Guilford on the road 28-26, 27-29, 25-22, 25-23 to advance to Round 2. Its reward: a familiar playoff foe from recent years.

The Red Tornadoes went on the road and upset the Chargers 3-1 in the second round in 2018. Back in 2016, Hickory took the first set from the top-seeded Chargers 35-33, before Cox Mill routed the Red Tornadoes in the next three and won the third-round match en route to a state title. In the same round the year before, Cox Mill upset top-seeded Hickory at David W. Craft Gym.

A win tonight would put Hickory (21-16 playoff history) in the quarterfinals for the first time since reaching the 3A West final in 2009.

Cox Mill (19-9 playoff history) lost just one set this season in winning the South Piedmont 3A Conference. The Chargers’ top four attackers are all seniors, led by Raven Gray, who has nearly four kills per set. Cox Mill is looking to return to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017. The Chargers won the 2016 3A state title.

Next up: No. 9 West Henderson (10-1) or No. 1 Watuaga (11-1)

No. 9 West Henderson (10-1) at No. 1 Watauga (11-1)

Watauga’s run during the four years the Pioneers have been in the 3A class has been impressive. They are 84-6 overall with a 50-0 mark in the Northwestern 3A/4A conference. The team has made deep runs all three seasons as a 3A school, winning its home matches before being eliminated on the road. Back in 2017, the Pioneers won the first two at home, then lost at defending 3A champion Cox Mill. In 2018, despite an unbeaten regular season, Watauga received a No. 4 seed. It took care of business at home in the first three rounds before losing in the quarterfinals at eventual state champion Marvin Ridge. Last season, another unbeaten regular season garnered them another fourth seed, but the script was similar — three wins at home before a loss in the quarterfinals at No. 1 West Rowan.

This year, Watauga has the West No. 1 seed and will play at home until the final. The Pioneers advanced with a sweep Tuesday over North Henderson. And now the fun begins.

The Pioneers will host defending 3A West Region champion West Henderson, which is one of the stronger programs in the state. Overall, the Falcons have been to the state final 11 times with five titles. West Henderson is hungry for that sixth title after several close calls since the last title in 2008. Over the past 11 seasons, the Falcons have reached the round-of-16 each year, with eight appearances in the state quarterfinals, seven regional final appearances and three regional titles. West Henderson advanced to tonight's match after a sweep of Concord.

Despite the success of the programs during their tenures as 3A schools together since 2017, the two have not met in the playoffs. Watauga has a young squad with two sophomores leading in kills and another in blocks, which West Henderson has a senior-heavy roster.

Next up: No. 12 Hickory (10-3) or No. 4 Cox Mill (15-0)

4A

No. 5 Providence (15-0) at No. 4 McDowell (8-4)

It was a night of celebration in Marion on Tuesday, as McDowell defeated Butler and won its first playoff game since beating South Caldwell at home in 2013.

McDowell was a pest at times to the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference’s top two teams. In the first meeting with Watauga, the Titans battled the Pioneers to a 25-21 loss in the first set before losing in a sweep. McDowell looked on the verge of getting swept at Hickory, but eventually forced a fifth set and led 10-4 before the Red Tornadoes rallied to win.

The Titans will take on the lone team to defeat Watauga in the regular season since 2017. Champions of the South Meck 7 4A Conference, Providence is looking to return to the state finals for the first time since 2014 and to claim the Panthers' first title since 2011. The Panthers have five 4A state titles in eight finals appearances.

Next up: No. 8 Ardrey Kell (12-3) or No. 1 NW Guilford (15-1)

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