ROCKINGHAM – Still perfect. Still hungry. Still history to be made.
For the Richmond Senior High School varsity volleyball team, phase two of undefeated play is complete, with only the most important phase, the North Carolina 4-A state playoffs, standing between the Lady Raiders and destiny.
The Lady Raiders added to their already impressive resume, earning their 25th straight win to claim the 2017 Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship Wednesday night. Last week, Richmond took the regular season crown.
Wednesday was the third night in a row that Richmond took to its home court and swept its opponent in straight sets 3-0. No. 1-seeded Richmond (25-0) never gave No. 2 Pinecrest (16-6) a chance, blanking them 25-16, 25-13 and 25-15.
“It feels great to be 25-0,” head coach Shellie Wimpey said in an exclusive video interview with the RO. “It feels like the season has flown by, and now we’re 25-0. While were in (the season), we keep pushing and pushing. And now it feels real and we can actually celebrate.”
Earlier in the week, the Lady Raiders silenced No. 8 Seventy First and No. 4 Scotland County. On the season to date, Richmond has won 111 of its 118 sets played. And Wednesday’s SAC tournament win was a fitting finish to a season that saw Richmond decimate its conference competition.
Senior Altman Griffin (center) celebrates with several teammates during Wednesday’s SAC championship victory.
The first game got off to a slow start, with Richmond falling behind the Lady Patriots 2-0 early. But following senior outside hitter Altman Griffin’s first of a team-high 14 kills on the night, the Lady Raiders soon found their groove. As a team, the Lady Raiders finished with 34 kills, 41 digs and nine aces.
Pinecrest committed a serving error, one of its many on the night, which was enough to shift the game’s momentum. Richmond leapt out to a 16-7 lead following a 10-3 run by its explosive offense comprised of Griffin, junior outside hitter Savannah Lampley and senior middle blockers Brianna Baysek and Owen Bowers. Another Pinecrest serving error, in conjunction with a push out of bounds by junior setter Camille Honeycutt, closed out the first game.
“We’ve won all these games, and it doesn’t even feel real,” Griffin said. “It’s definitely an accomplishment (to win 25 games). To be undefeated my senior year, and to know that people are going to remember this, it feels really good.”
In the second game, neither team saw major changes, as Richmond held the Lady Patriots to a match-low 13 points. Griffin got the set started with a 9-0 run from the serving line, where she picked up three of her six aces on the night.
Pinecrest head coach Scott Shepherd called a timeout while down by seven, but Richmond refused to let the break in play deter its overpowering offense. Despite allowing the Lady Patriots pull within six points and trail 15-9, Richmond steamed ahead, and closed out the set with a tip from sophomore outside hitter Jadyn Johnson and a Pinecrest serving error.
Also putting up big offensive numbers for the Lady Raiders were Bowers (nine kills), Baysek (five kills, two aces) and Lampley (four kills). Sophomore outside hitter Allexis Swiney also contributed with one ace and one kill. Senior setter Mackenzie Webb, who is the Official Richmond County Female Athlete of the Week, tallied 33 assists to help set up the offense.
Leading Richmond on defense was sophomore libero Layne Maultsby, who went par for the course, racking up a team-high 12 digs. Griffin picked up double digit digs for the third night in a row, adding 10 more. Eight other Lady Raiders dug the ball, most notably, were Swiney (five digs), and Lampley and Webb (four each).
As this is the first SAC tournament championship in program history, Richmond is set to head into the state playoffs. Wimpey said the bracket isn’t entirely set, but Richmond will likely receive a first-round bye, and if that’s the case, will host a second-round game Tuesday, October 24. The opponent and time of the potential second round match are yet to be decided at the time of this publication.
“We have to make sure we’re working hard on defense every day,” Wimpey said about getting ready for the second round. “We’ve got to work on our serve/receive because sometimes we struggle with that.
“We have to play our game,” Wimpey continued. “We can’t let anyone get in our head. And we have to do what we do best.”