For the first time since 2018, the D.H. Conley Vikings volleyball team is heading to the state championship.
The Vikings took down Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference foe and cross-town rival J.H. Rose 3-1 (25-23, 25-19, 25-27,25-15) Tuesday night, winning the NCHSAA East Regional Final and earning the right to face Cox Mill in the state championship game on Saturday.
“It’s so exciting and to be able to go with this group of girls is amazing,” Conley head coach Jennifer Gillikin said. “They have worked so hard since June and I’m just so proud of them. They bring it every day at practice and to get this win to move on to the championship is a big deal.”
Conley improved to 15-1 on the season, while Rose finished the season 13-3 with the only three losses coming at the hands of the Vikings.
“It’s really nice. I have a lot of close friends on that team,” Conley senior Olivia Lefever said. “It’s bittersweet that two Greenville teams had to fight it out for state and that we both couldn’t have the opportunity to go. But it is a really big win and I think we are all really proud of that.”
Even though the two schools have a fierce rivalry in every sport, Gillikin said focusing on the ultimate goal was the key to this game.
“Our job (as coaches) was to keep our kids focused on, it’s the Eastern Finals,” she said. “No matter what team is on the other side, they are standing between us and the championship. I think our girls did a really good job with that.”
Although the lineup was without dynamic sophomore hitter Kylah Silver due to COVID-19 protocols, freshman hitter Ashlyn Philpot stepped up and recorded 15 kills and six blocks up front.
“We had to make an adjustment to our lineup and we moved (Ashlyn) to the outside. It is important to remember she is a freshman, but tonight, she didn’t play like one,” Gillikin said. “She really stepped up. In timeouts, she was focused and ready to get after it. She had a great match.”
Junior Ella Philpot followed with 12 kills. Senior Sara Dees added eight kills and led the team with 12 blocks. Junior Maddy May recorded 15 digs, added eight kills and made several key hustle plays to keep the ball alive for the Lady Vikings.
“Maddy May, as good a hitter as she is, she is so strong on the back row,” Gillikin said. “She was all over the court. Not only is she doing great with getting great passes and digs up, she is such a good leader and teammate. It’s fun to watch her play.”
Junior Sydney Boyer led the way for Rose on offense, terminating 13 balls while senior Grayson Norwood followed with nine kills. Senior Tate Duke led the team with 17 digs.
“We battled and fought,” Rose head coach Kelley Krainiak said. “We knew they were going to come in strong on the front and back row. So we just tried to stay as consistent as we could and serve really well. We did those things, but we kind of came up short at the end.”
With the score tied at 8-8 in the first set, Conley embarked on a 12-5 run powered by five kills from Ashlyn Philpot to give the Vikings a 20-13 advantage. Rose battled back, however, and made the score 24-23 before Conley put the first set away with a kill from senior Haley Jackson.
“Haley is kind of our secret weapon on the right side,” Gillikin said. “She comes through and gets these big kills right when we need them and she’s done that all season.”
The Rampants carried their late first set momentum into the second set and opened an 8-2 lead with several blocks and a kill from sophomore Amelia Taft. Two kills from May and another from Ella Philpot ignited a 7-1 run for Conley and tied the game at 9-9. Conley eventually pulled away to win the second set.
Down 2-0, the Rampants never trailed by more than three points in the third set. After a kill from sophomore Anna Bayes gave Rose a 21-19 lead, the Rampants fought off a late charge from Conley to take the third set victory.
“The mental strength it takes to bounce back from two close sets, that’s what we were looking for and it’s the team we’ve had all season,” Krainiak said. “They came back, did what they had to do and then came up a little short.”
Rose took a 7-6 lead early in the fourth set, but Conley embarked on a 13-5 run to take a 19-12 lead and cruised to the fourth set victory.
Conley and Cox Mill will face off in the 3A NCHSAA state championship game at Green Level High School in Cary starting at 1 p.m. Cox Mill, a four-seed on the west side of the bracket, is 18-0 on the season and defeated T.C. Roberson in straight sets to advance to the final game.
Tuesday’s scores Girls’ basketball
South Central 47, Bern 25
Record: SC 4-1.
North Pitt 65, Beddingfield 12
Record: NP 4-0.
South Central 54, New Bern 47
Record: SC 5-0.
Today’s games Basketball
North Johnston at Farmville Central
Ayden-Grifton at West Craven