Home Local Sports No. 29 Richmond falls in 4A East playoff opener

No. 29 Richmond falls in 4A East playoff opener

Head coach Ashleigh Larsen speaks to the Richmond volleyball team during a timeout in the third set. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

APEX, N.C. — What turned out to be a busy day for the defense in the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs, the Richmond Senior High School volleyball team didn’t advance on Saturday.

The No. 29 Lady Raiders saw their season come to an end on the road at No. 4 Middle Creek High School in a 3-0 loss in the 4A East bracket.

Returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2019, Richmond fell by set scores of 3-25, 9-25 and 7-25.

Head coach Ashleigh Larsen said she and her team knew it was going to be a challenge facing the hard-hitting Lady Mustangs.

“In the first set, the girls let their nerves get the best of them today,” Larsen said. “I told them that anybody can look good without a block and that we could do the same thing. We dug ourselves deep into a hole and made errors that cost us.

“We got it going a little better in the second set because we were able to get (Middle Creek) out of serve-receive, which is what we worked on. Offensively, we couldn’t find the floor around the block. The third set was better, even though the score doesn’t represent that.”

Junior libero Allie Rodgers makes an athletic dig in the first set. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Faced with an aggressive attack by Middle Creek, the Lady Raiders let a 1-1 tie early in the first set develop into a 10-point deficit. Trailing 12-2, Larsen called a timeout.

The Lady Mustangs used a 13-1 run to close the set. Senior middle hitter Catherine Dennis recorded Richmond’s only kill of the match for the team’s final point in the first frame.

The Lady Raiders used a pair of service errors to get on the board in the second. Middle Creek’s Sally Perez mishit a pair of attacks for two more points, and sophomore setter Ava Edmondson capped a 3-0 run with an ace to make it a 9-5 hole.

Richmond’s final three points all came from errors committed by Middle Creek, which closed the second set on a 16-3 stretch.

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The final stanza mirrored the first two sets for both teams, with the Lady Raiders registering six of their seven points on hitting or service errors. Dennis made a block at the net for the team’s final point, seeing the ball land in bounds.

Junior libero Allie Rodgers, junior hitter Jenna Gardner and senior defensive specialist Joy Styles all finished with double-digit digs — 16, 13 and 11, respectively. 

Edmondson added 7 digs, junior hitter Makailah Jackson had 6 digs and senior Quston Leviner, along with juniors Christi Jacobs and Katie Way, all had 4 digs. Rounding out the defensive effort was junior Keyoni Nichols with 2 digs.

Senior defensive specialist Joy Styles makes one of her 11 digs during Richmond’s playoff match. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Middle Creek (22-2), winner of the Southwest Wake Conference regular-season title, will host conference opponent No. 13 Green Hope High School in the second round.

Richmond finished the season with a 9-15 overall record, including a 4-8 mark against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents. Finishing fifth overall in the conference standings, the Lady Raiders earned second of the three 4A schools.

The biggest win of the season for Richmond came in the quarterfinals of the SAC tournament last week, when the No. 5 Lady Raiders handed No. 4 Scotland a 3-2 loss. That victory was enough to put Richmond over the edge and into the postseason.

Saturday’s match marked the final high school competition for Dennis, Leviner and Styles.

“I’m going to miss the heck out of our seniors who have been a big part of our program for four years,” Larsen said. “I told the other girls that we made the playoffs and this is something to look forward to. We have a good majority of them coming back.

“This season was a rollercoaster, the girls know it, too,” she closed. “We had moments where we played like never before and other times when we were down on ourselves. If we get better internally in the offseason, hopefully that will help our external performance. I’m already ready for next season.”

The Richmond Observer will publish an article about the 2022 All-SAC volleyball team when that information is released.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.