by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — It wasn’t easy but the Heritage High School volleyball team recorded its biggest victory in the program’s three-year history, defeating last year’s state 4A runner-ups, Leesville Road 3-2 on Thursday, September 26.
Back-and-forth points, nail-biting sets with lengthy volleys and huge kills could easily call the game a candidate for match of the year.
It was the third meeting between the two schools and Heritage was shut out in the first matches.
As it turned out this time, both teams played with a sense of urgency and neither team led by more than six points in the first four sets.
And as both teams figured would be the case while battling to win that pivotal fifth set, it was the Huskies, which gained control of that frame that proved decisive boosting them to a 26-24, 25-23, 19-25, 22-15, 15-6 Cap 8 Conference victory.
“It is our biggest win,” said Heritage coach Branden Green. “Leesville Road is a great team and it was very exciting to see us fight until the end and win the match.”
Green said it was the Huskies best played match this season. “We got huge points when needed and we just did a great job battling back,” he said.
Tied at two games apiece and with how tight the previous sets had been, one expected a riveting fifth game.
It was an exhilarating final few points, but only for the Huskies, now 9-9 and 3-7.
Behind the play of Hannah Midles, Isis Amon and Tori Holmberg, Heritage reeled off six consecutive points and took care of business as a crowd of Hooligans roared their approval and stormed the court to join in on the celebration.
“It doesn’t matter who won the first or second set, but what matters is who won the fifth set,” Green said. “Hopefully we can build on this win and keep the momentum going.”
Following Leesville Road knotting the game score at 2-all, the score was even at 1-1 in the fifth set. That’s when outside hitters Midles, Amon and Holmberg went to work as Midles started the scoring streak with a kill. A later kill by Amon made it 10-3 in the Huskies favor.
“We worked really hard,” Holmberg said. “When Leesville Road won the third and fourth set, we didn’t get down because we knew we were going to win.”
“It’s normal to get down but we really wanted this game and we were the better team,” Holmberg added.
The junior led the Huskies in kills with 17 and came out confident and punctuated the first-set win. She scored three of Heritage’s last six points, including a kill, which tied the score at 21-21.
“I was playing with confidence and I was making my shots when we needed them the most,” Holmberg said. “I felt really comfortable out there.”
Sophomore setter Ellie Lupton notched 42 assists to go along with four aces and was the reason the Huskies outside hitters were so effective. Midles led Heritage with 53 attacks and junior Sydney Hinds returned just about everything that came her way and finished with 35 digs.
Another player that came through was Holly Kennedy, who scored 11 points off of 18 serves.
Green said his team is unique because they have several players who can make big plays.
“We have different ones who can carry us and make us very competitive,” he said. “We had a lot of players step up tonight.”
The second set went back and forth and both teams struggled to grasp a significant lead. There were eight lead changes and 13 ties before Heritage pulled away late.
The Huskies had to feel like they let a set get away in the third frame.
Heritage built a five-point lead at 13-8, only to see Leesville Road rattle off three straight points to pull within 13-11.
But the Huskies found their footing and battled back to stay in front of Leesville until they tied the score at 17-all.
From there, the Pride went on an 8-0 run and needed just two points to force a fourth set.
Leesville Road stayed in rhythm in the fourth set and took an early lead over the Huskies.
Heritage, playing with their backs to the wall turned things on and after a series of long rallies, found themselves tied 21-21 with Leesville Road. But the Pride won some hard fought points to knot the game score at 2-all.
“Leesville Road has beaten some good teams and it’s just a great win for us,” Green said.
“Volleyball is a game of mistakes and you have to be ready for every play,” Green added. “We refocused, got over the fourth set and became even more aggressive in the fifth set. We’re just going to keep working hard to get better.
Heritage will host Enloe today (Thursday) at 5:30 and will travel to Wake Forest on Monday.