by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
GREENVLLE — The Wakefield High School volleyball team is making history this week.
Their pre-season goal sheet is whittling down and now the school’s first ever trip to the 4A state volleyball finals is all that remains.
The Wolverines took the first step toward their ultimate goal Tuesday evening and were better than D.H. Conley at the end of sets to win their regional bracket 25-19, 25-21 and 25-22.
Wakefield will play Hough High School of Cornelius for the 4A state title. Hough, 32-1, defeated Mt. Tabor 3-1 in the other regional semi-final.
“Playing for a state championship means a lot to our seniors because this is our last year and this is our last time we have that opportunity,” said senior Darian Mack. “We are so excited to be playing for the championship and I’m so proud of all the players.”
The title game will be played at 7:30 pm at North Carolina State University’s Reynolds Coliseum.
“We played hard, got the job done and it’s a great feeling,” said Wakefield coach Cynthia Terrell. “The match was tight and intense; like a ping pong game.”
The Wolverines advanced to the semi-finals following victories against Millbrook, 3-0, in the third round and Riverside High School, 3-2, in Saturday’s fourth round.
The Wolverines, 24-2, meanwhile were focused solely on reaching the title game for the first time in the program’s history. And they accomplished that feat with a hard fought win over a previously unbeaten D H Conley squad in a heated match full of vocal Viking supporters.
“It was an electrifying atmosphere,” Terrell said. “The crowds were back and forth and I just told the team to block them out and they worked hard to get their shots down.”
Wakefield led the majority of the first set and then watched the pendulum swing the other way as the second game was much tighter.
“We got behind in the second set and we struggled a bit finishing,” Terrell said. “D H Conley is a very good defensive team but we found a way to come back and became more effective at getting the job done.”
Mack said aggressive serving and blocking kept her team in the match, especially in the second set, but tuning out the D H Conley crowd was a plus.
“They had a very big and loud crowd, but being on the road for our other two matches really helped us tune them out,” Mack said.
The third frame was close too and Terrell called a time out to settle her team.
“I told them they have worked too hard to go up 2-0,” she said. “We took the lead and didn’t waste any more time allowing them to get back into the game.”
It was Maya Muldrow, who put the winning kill back over the net that ended the third set but it was the entire team’s effort that set the trip to the championship game.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that we are going,” Terrell said.
“Back in June, we talked about our goals,” Terrell added. “We wanted to win the conference championship and make it to the state championship game,” she added.
And the Wolverines have accomplished all that.
“The road was rocky at times but the girls never gave up,” Terrell said.
“D H Conley is a very respectable team, but we rose to the challenge,” Terrell added.
The emotional factor was perhaps a big part of Wakefield’s five-set thriller against Riverside Saturday, 25-12, 24-26, 22-25, 25-21, and 15-12.
“It was such a close match,” Terrell said. “I wanted it so bad for the team and I’m so proud of their effort.”
The Wolverines took a 2-1 lead in the first and never looked back. At one point, they were up by 12 points, thanks to a serving run from Gabby Benda, Mack and Julia Forbes.
Wakefield looked unbeatable with timely kills by Mack, Jordan Glass and Muldrow that were set up by Benda.
The Pirates regrouped and looked like a different team to win the next two sets.
Set two was tied late at 23-23 and 24-24 as was game three at 20-all.
Both teams played close in game four and Benda started taking control and the Wolverines elevated their all-around game. The two teams were neck and neck down the stretch and Wakefield delivered when it counted.
In the final game, following a 5-5 tie, a block by Mack and Muldrow gave Wakefield the lead for good.
“We played with so much heart,” said Glass, who had 14 digs and nine blocks. “I had to block the fact that it could have been our last match and just stay focused on winning one point at a time.”
“A lot of good teams come back strong and we did,” Glass added.
Benda dished out 59 assists while Mack and Muldrow had 19 kills each.
Wakefield sweep Millbrook on October 24 in the third round by dominant scores of 25-18, 25-15 and 25-21.
The Wildcats led just once in the entire match and that was early in the third game.
“We took the lead from the get go and I was glad to finish in three sets,” Terrell said.
Benda was effective again at getting the ball to hitters, Muldrow, Mack and Forbes, and had 40 assists.
“I have confidence in all of my hitters,” she said. “I know who’s hot and we just all work well together.”
Wakefield came out on fire against Millbrook, which is only one of two teams to defeat the Wolverines this season.
“We made sure we were ready for them,” said Forbes, who led her team in digs with 14. “I’m so proud of my team and so happy. Everyone worked together and got the job done.”