ROCKINGHAM — Everything went right through the first two and a half sets on Wednesday for the Richmond Senior High School volleyball team.
Until things crumbled for the Lady Raiders in their Sandhills Athletic Conference match against Union Pines.
Trying to even the season series with the Lady Vikings, Richmond wasn’t able to close out the victory and lost 3-2.
Taking a 2-0 lead, the Lady Raiders recorded set scores of 25-15, 25-22, 22-25, 16-25 and 5-15.
Part of the shift that went in Union Pines’ favor was when senior outside hitter Tyne Ross, a North Carolina A&T State commit, entered the match late in the third set.
Returning from a tennis match, Ross helped switch up the tempo. Richmond head coach Ashleigh Larsen said there was an impact on her team.
“Our girls mentally let (Ross) win,” Larsen said after the tough defeat. “Union Pines got fired up like they won the championship when she got there. But we still hung in there the rest of the way.
“There were just a couple of serve-receive rotations we couldn’t get out of in the fourth set,” she added. “I really thought we’d rally in the fifth.”
Wednesday’s match was also “pink and orange night,” which showed the team and community’s support for breast cancer and leukemia awareness. The Lady Raiders debuted new pink jerseys.
Members of the Lady Raiders wore shirts that read “Coach Had Strong” during warmups to show support for the school’s longtime athletic trainer Mitch Hadinger, who was diagnosed with leukemia in August.
Senior middle hitter Katie Way tied the first set 4-4 with a push to the back right corner, which was followed by a 5-0 run to put Richmond up 9-6 later in the set. Using mostly errors from the Lady Vikings (14-4, 7-2 SAC), senior Keyoni Nichols ended the run with an ace.
Starting another big run, this time featuring six straight points for Richmond, was a tip at the net by senior outside hitter MaKailah Jackson. Senior outside hitter Christi Jacobs added a kill and a block and two kills from Way, along with an error, made it a 15-8 lead.
A tip by junior setter Ava Edmondson, kills from Jacobs and freshman middle hitter Riley McDonald, and an ace by freshman defensive specialist Kenley Smith, opened the advantage to 20-13, forcing Union Pines to take its second timeout.
Another Smith ace out of the break was followed by a McDonald kill, while an ace from senior libero Allie Rodgers and Way earned the set point on a kill.
The second set saw Richmond trail early, but an ace from Way tied it 8-8. Union Pines took a 12-8 lead and Larsen paused the action.
Out of the timeout, a hitting error by Union Pines rolled over into a 5-2 spurt for Richmond to pull within a point. McDonald had a kill and Jackson found the floor twice on kills.
Another timeout by the Lady Raiders trailing 13-17 helped stop Union Pines’ momentum. Jackson recorded a pair of kills to begin a 12-5 scoring stretch to give the Lady Raiders a 2-0 lead.
Numerous miscues by the Lady Vikings aided the turnaround for Richmond, which glided on seven consecutive points to jump ahead 23-20. With Edmonson at the serving line, Jacobs had a kill while McDonald blocked a shot and spiked the ball for the three-point lead.
Leading 24-22, a smart play at the net by McDonald on an Edmondson assist secured the set point.
Carrying over the momentum in the third, Richmond rolled to a 10-2 lead. McDonald had four kills, and Jackson added one, during that span.
But the Lady Vikings used a 6-1 run and a 6-3 stretch to tie the score at 14 points. Following a McDonald kill to tie the score again at 17 points, Ross entered the match.
Union Pines saw a 21-18 lead disappear thanks to two Way kills and an ace from Nichols. Jackson kept the set alive with another spike, but Union Pines eked out the three-point set victory.
The fourth set was contested most of the way, something Larsen said she was pleased with. But unable to get out of serve-receives cost the Lady Raiders.
An 11-3 scoring stretch by the visitors to begin the fifth frame led to the 10-point loss for the Lady Raiders.
“I’m still really proud of the girls for the way they played in the first two sets,” Larsen closed. “We just need to learn how to finish games. The girls have proven they can play with the best of them.
“Christi (Jacobs) and Katie (Way) played well tonight, and Riley (McDonald) didn’t play last time, so her swings and blocks gave them a different look. If we could have fixed a few little mistakes and found that relentless pursuit, we could have won tonight.”
Richmond (8-10, 5-5 SAC) will travel to last-place Lee County on Thursday (4-12, 0-9 SAC). First serve is set for 6 p.m.
JV volleyball team loses to Union Pines
Unlike the varsity match, the junior varsity volleyball game was over quickly for the JV Lady Raiders.
Also hosting Union Pines, the JV team lost 2-0 in straight sets behind scores of 13-25 and 22-25.
“We were slow to get it rolling in the first game,” head coach Melissa Dennis said. “In the second game, we were able to make some smart decisions. The girls were also much more aggressive.”
The JV team (10-8, 4-6 SAC) will also go on the road to Lee County on Thursday and start at 5 p.m.