Comments and photos from this week's rivalry matchup between Harnett Central and Triton Tuesday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To view and download more photos from this event, click this link.
ERWIN — With indoor restrictions at high school sporting events lifted this season, the walls surrounding Triton's volleyball gym were no match for screeching sounds emanating from an eager home contingent Tuesday.
Last year's contest provided much more of a subdued environment for in-county rival Harnett Central due to COVID-19 protocols and limitations, but first-year coach Ashley Gaines knew a different narrative would dominate this season's first meeting as All American Conference members.
"I told them (players) in the pregame ... 'These are games that you live to play for right here. Big rivalry games. Big games that have lots of noise. But you can't let that get in your head. You come in and you still set the tone early,'" Gaines said following a hard-fought 3-1 victory.
"And so, I think they did a great job of that off the go in the first set. ... That's our big thing right now is pressing the gas and getting ahead– getting in the driver's seat, ready to roll."
Central (6-5, 6-0 AAC) quieted the student section ruckus early, jumping out to a 6-1 advantage when Lily Gervase blocked a shot at the net.
For Gervase, Tuesday marked a continuation of last week's 14-kill, six-block performance in the win over Pine Forest. The lanky middle hitter– like she has all season– led the team in blocks and was second in kills against a fired-up Lady Hawks offense.
"She came out the gate and she was ready," Gaines said of the junior transfer.
"She's somebody that you should fear on the other side of the court and she plays that role for us like we ask her to do. She sets the tone when she's in the middle."
Keeping pace from the other side was Triton (3-9, 2-3 AAC) frontline standout Carleigh Hemby, whose block in the opening set's latter stages drew her group to within two points, 18-16. Moments later, her ace tightened the margin to 19-18.
But Lady Trojans senior captain Ivanna Jones sparked a late rally with a kill that made it 22-19 and eventually led to the one-set advantage.
Jones' clutch plays would be a recurring theme, which Gaines says she expects from her veteran outside hitter.
"I don't know that I could ever say enough about Ivanna," Gaines said.
"Ivanna plays that leader role so well. And if you ask all 11 of our girls, who's the leader, who's the energy-maker on the court? They're gonna tell you Ivanna with no hesitation. And she has learned to adjust and enjoy that pressure."
The second set saw Central race out to another lead, using a Jones ace to go up 15-7. Hemby would get Triton within three, 21-18, on back-to-back aces of her own. But the Lady Trojans closed the set on a 4-0 run, highlighted by two points from Jones.
Lady Hawks coach Wendy Simmons thought the slow starts were a deterrent to her group's mentality, but was encouraged by a gritty third set.
"They can't play to their potential when we're behind. When we get ahead, we're good," she said.
The Lady Hawks forced a Gaines timeout after sprinting to a 9-5 advantage. Early swings from Hemby and Korra Altman gave way from service points from Ava Blackman and Reagan Bradham.
A Bradham ace to give Triton its largest lead, 20-11, put a jolt in the gym and helped the group finish off a four-point win in the frame.
"We jumped on them. We stayed ahead, we didn't lose the lead and we did what it took to stay ahead," Simmons added.
But the visitors would regain the edge in the fourth, securing a 12-6 advantage that forced Simmons to call a timeout.
Jones putting the finishing touches on the team's sixth consecutive victory with a well-placed shot that found open court and made it 25-19.
As the only team unbeaten in All American play, Gaines is prepping her squad for a second run through league opponents, anticipating their best shot each night.
"I just told them tonight after the game ... 'You're in control of the conference. You're sitting in a really good spot, but you also have a big target on your back,'" Gaines said.
"But I also told them, 'Wear that target with pride. ... Let people know why you wear that target.'"
Central returns to its conference slate Thursday at Western Harnett, while Triton plays at E.E. Smith.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or (910) 230-2040.