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Relentless Pursuit: No. 5 Richmond upsets No. 4 Scotland in SAC tournament opener

The Lady Raiders celebrate after a point in the third set of Monday's SAC tournament win. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

LAURINBURG — Redemption for the Lady Raider volleyball team was a dish best served during the first round of the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament on Monday.

Four days after falling to rival Scotland High School in the regular-season finale, No. 5 Richmond and head coach Ashleigh Larsen redeemed themselves with a 3-2 upset win.

On the road against the No. 4 Lady Scots, Richmond won by set scores of 14-25, 25-12, 25-22, 18-25 and 17-15. 

The biggest win to this point in the season, it marked the second victory for the Lady Raiders in three tries this season against Scotland.

Fueled by an aggressive attack by senior middle hitter Catherine Dennis and her team-high 19 kills, the Lady Raiders overcame a slow start. Fellow junior middle hitter Katie Way also contributed to the win, notching five kills, including the match-winner.

The Lady Raiders were slow out of the gate, and trailed by 10 points two different times in the first set. Dennis had her first kill of the night and added an ace, while junior Jenna Gardner served the first of her team-high six aces.

Way added a block at the net to make it a 23-14 deficit, but the home team took the first set with consecutive points.

Looking like a much different team in the second frame, the Lady Raiders controlled the tempo from the start, cruising to an 8-0 lead. During that span Dennis, senior Quston Leviner (six total kills) and junior Makailah Jackson all had one kill and Gardner dished up two aces.

Sophomore setter Ava Edmondson joined the mix with an ace and a kill, while Leviner found the floor on a serve. Junior Christi Jacobs, who had two kills and six digs in the win, spiked the ball as part of another big run.

Leading 22-12, Dennis made her presence known at the net with back-to-back kills and a quick return by Gardner forced a hitting error to tie the match at one set apiece.

The third set was deja vu for the Lady Raiders, who again rolled out to a big lead, 10-0. After a service error started the stanza, Dennis and Leviner each recorded three kills and Gardner froze the Lady Scots (10-9, 6-7 SAC) with her final three aces.

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An extended injury timeout led to a 14-6 run by Scotland, which cut Richmond’s lead to just two points, 16-14. Larsen called a timeout and an ace from Jacobs and kills from Way, Dennis and Leviner made it a 22-17 advantage.

Another Dennis kill, coupled with a smart redirection by Edmondson at the net, made it set point. An error by Scotland resulted in the Lady Raiders taking a 2-1 lead.

The Lady Scots regained their first lead since the first set by jumping ahead 7-6 in the fourth. Three points from Way and two more from Jacobs swung the momentum and gave the Lady Raiders a 12-8 lead, causing Scotland to call a timeout.

Battling out to a 14-14 tie, Scotland forced a decisive fifth set by closing on an 11-4 run.

Dennis, who has been Richmond’s centerpiece this season, answered the call when needed. In the final set, she recorded seven kills, including Richmond’s first three points. Edmondson served one of her three aces in the win and Jackson made an athletic kill at the net to put Richmond ahead 6-5.

Jacobs broke a 7-7 tie with an ace and a 3-0 run featuring two Dennis kills and another by Jackson made it an 11-9 Richmond advantage. A timeout by Scotland resulted in a 3-0 run, causing the Lady Raiders to pause the action down 12-11.

A Dennis kill, combined with a block by her and Edmondson that landed inbounds and a hitting error put Richmond ahead. Knotted at 14 points, Richmond sealed the deal by taking three of the next four points.

Edmondson registered her final kill, which was followed by Dennis’ 19th spike of the match. A long rally was ended when junior libero Allie Rodger recorded her final of 25 digs, which allowed Edmonson to set Way for the match-winning kill.

Other statistics included 19 digs by Edmondson, senior Joy Styles added 12 digs and Gardner helped defensively with 11 digs. Both Edmondson and Jacobs served three aces.

Richmond (9-13, 5-8 SAC) will travel to No. 1 Pinecrest High School (20-2, 12-0 SAC) in the semifinal round on Tuesday. First serve is set for 6 p.m.

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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.