ROCKINGHAM – Still a success.
Those were the three simple words spoken by Richmond Senior High School volleyball head coach Shellie Wimpey following Tuesday’s second-round state playoff loss to No. 15 Lake Norman High School.
No. 2 Richmond fell in five sets (25-23, 22-25, 29-27, 17-25 and 13-15), but didn’t go down without playing with an innate sense of passion and leaving its heart on the floor. It was only the second time this year the Lady Raiders went to five sets.
The three words spoken by Wimpey that summarized the 2017 campaign are ones that resonate with anyone who has followed the historic and unprecedented success of the Lady Raiders’ season. Twenty-five wins and one loss. But the one loss came at the most inopportune time.
“I thought we fought really hard tonight,” Wimpey said. “There were times we were up, and then we let them come back. We’ve been talking about that all season, how we can’t let a good team come back into a game.
“Our season has still (been) a success,” Wimpey added. “Our girls showed how athletic they are tonight.”
The single-elimination format of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s playoffs, coupled with a strong showing by the Lady Wildcats, are what finally ended the 25-game winning streak that had been the pulse of Richmond County since late August.
It’s no easy task to accomplish what the Lady Raiders did, and for that, they should be proud. Despite the season coming down to a nail-biting fifth set, it was an exemplary performance that will be penned into the history books for future teams to admire.
The two teams split the odd and even games through the first four sets, with Richmond making comebacks in both the first and third games. But it was games two and four that saw Richmond fall behind early, and an early fifth-set lead that slipped away.
What can be definitively described as the most intense match of the season (for obvious reasons), the Lady Raiders never showed signs of doubt or frustration, and it was evident they were in it to win it. But Lake Norman managed to be just nine points better, all with help from a pair of sophomore outside hitters in Ava Arriviello and Makenzie Taylor.
On the night, the Lady Raiders tallied an impressive 47 kills, 73 digs and seven blocks. It was the first time all season that they failed to register an ace. Senior outside hitter Altman Griffin, who undoubtedly served as the team’s best offensive player over the course of the season, racked up a team-high in kills (22) and digs (24), and had two blocks.
Assisting Griffin was fellow senior middle hitter Owen Bowers, who tacked on 11 kills and two digs. Senior middle hitter Brianna Baysek (seven kills, three digs and three blocks) and senior setter Mackenzie Webb (42 assists, 13 digs, two kills and two blocks) helped lead the way for the Lady Raiders on the stat sheet. Junior outside hitter, and the only regular underclassman starter, Savannah Lampley finished with 23 digs and five kills.
Richmond’s defense, which has been equally as impressive as its offense throughout the season, still performed outstandingly. Sophomore defensive specialist Layne Maultsby finished the night with 13 digs, while sophomore outside hitter Allexis Swiney chipped in nine more.
“Being able to play with this team has been an amazing experience,” Webb noted, remaining upbeat. “I couldn’t ask for better coaches or teammates. We played our hearts out the entire season, and we pushed our limits until we achieved our goals.
“We never lacked passion for the game,” Webb continued. “I’m so glad we made our mark on the school and the community. I can look back on this season with so much pride.”
Perseverance can be added to the list of adjectives to describe the Lady Raiders. In the first game, they struggled out of the gate, but it overcame an early 4-2 deficit. Richmond got its first lead of the set, 6-5, before jumping out to a 12-6 lead which was helped by several Lady Wildcats hitting errors and a couple of right-handed slams by Griffin (who had five in the set).
Several miscommunications between Richmond players resulted in a 6-0 Lake Norman run that cut the lead to 17-16, and Wimpey called a timeout. Out of the break, a huge block by Griffin pushed the lead to 20-17, but the Lady Wildcats battled back to tie the set at 23. Richmond ended the game on a 2-0 run to gain a one set to none lead.
Despite dropping the second game 22-25, Richmond managed to chip away at the Lady Wildcats’ lead throughout the set. A 5-1 Lady Raiders run tied the set at 19, but Lake Norman managed to pull away late, capping it off with a Taylor ace.
The third set was the most intense, as Richmond again overcame an early deficit, this time 3-0 Lake Norman start. Behind a Bowers cross-court slam, the Lady Raiders lengthened their lead to 18-14. But then the pressure came from the Lady Wildcats as they managed to tie the set at 22.
In back-and forth fashion, both teams took turns regaining the lead. Richmond faced losing the set three separate times, but battled back to force another serve. Bowers tied the set at 27 with one of her four kills in the game, and following a crazy tick-tac-toe play involving Baysek and Griffin, the Lady Raiders stole the set 29-27.
The fourth and fifth games were equally as intense, but Richmond failed to get the upper hand it needed to close out the match and move onto to third round. The second round has become the Lady Raiders’ kryptonite, as it has been the stopping point each of the previous two seasons (Mallard Creek, 2016; Ronald Reagan, 2015).
Six seniors dressed in the iconic Richmond green and gold for the final time Tuesday. They were Baysek, Bowers, Griffin, Amia Pemberton, Webb and Laini Wright.
“It’s been a great season,” said Griffin reflecting back over the last two months. “We’ve all come so far as a team and as individuals. It’s been so cool to see everyone grow as players. It’s great being so close with the other seniors because although our season ended tonight, our friendships didn’t.
“It’s tough to go out the way we did,” Griffin continued, “but it’s an honor to say I was a part of this team.”
It shouldn’t be lost in the unfavorable outcome what Wimpey, assistant coach Ashleigh Larsen and the entire Lady Raiders team have accomplished this season. Though it may be the end of the 2017 season, there have been countless memories made, records broken, and the Lady Raiders refuse to let their final moments define their historic season.
After all, they’re a family; and families pick each other up in times of adversity. And be it as it may, this being one of those unfortunate times. But they can latch onto the three words “still a success” and hold their heads high.
The Richmond Observer would like to congratulate the 2017 Richmond Lady Raiders volleyball players and coaches on a season well played.