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Lady Panthers sweep interstellar clash from Ladybirds

Posted on December 22, 2020

Updated on December 23, 2020

School Sports
North Johnston's Gabby Hales (22) starts the offense as teammate Logan Hodge (23) looks on during Monday's nonconference match against Southern Nash in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

North Johnston's Gabby Hales (22) starts the offense as teammate Logan Hodge (23) looks on during Monday's nonconference match against Southern Nash in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) defends against Myah Stevens (17) of North Johnston during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Ladybirds were swept in three sets. Looking on for the Lady Panthers is Emma Scott (21). Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) defends against Myah Stevens (17) of North Johnston during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Ladybirds were swept in three sets. Looking on for the Lady Panthers is Emma Scott (21). Jimmy Lewis | Times

North Johnston's Lanie Croft (16) looks to hit over the defense of Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) during Monday's match at North Johnston. North Johnston won 3-0. Jimmy Lewis | Times

North Johnston's Lanie Croft (16) looks to hit over the defense of Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) during Monday's match at North Johnston. North Johnston won 3-0. Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Ricki Bartley (3) takes a swing against North Johnston as Gabby Hales (22) and Logan Hodge (23) look on during Monday's game at North Johnston. The Ladybirds lost in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Ricki Bartley (3) takes a swing against North Johnston as Gabby Hales (22) and Logan Hodge (23) look on during Monday's game at North Johnston. The Ladybirds lost in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

With teammate Hannah Carpenter looking on, Southern Nash's Taylor Bailey keeps the volleyball in play for the Ladybirds during Monday's match at Southern Nash. The Ladybirds lost 3-0. Looking across the net for North Johnston is Cori Appell (18). Jimmy Lewis | Times

With teammate Hannah Carpenter looking on, Southern Nash's Taylor Bailey keeps the volleyball in play for the Ladybirds during Monday's match at Southern Nash. The Ladybirds lost 3-0. Looking across the net for North Johnston is Cori Appell (18). Jimmy Lewis | Times

Emma Scott (21) of North Johnston attempts to elevate as Southern Nash's Kierstin Cooper (14) times her jump during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won 3-0. Looking on for North Johnston is Lanie Croft (16). Jimmy Lewis | Times

Emma Scott (21) of North Johnston attempts to elevate as Southern Nash's Kierstin Cooper (14) times her jump during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won 3-0. Looking on for North Johnston is Lanie Croft (16). Jimmy Lewis | Times

North Johnston's Gabby Hales (22) starts the offense as teammate Logan Hodge (23) looks on during Monday's nonconference match against Southern Nash in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

North Johnston's Gabby Hales (22) starts the offense as teammate Logan Hodge (23) looks on during Monday's nonconference match against Southern Nash in Kenly. The Lady Panthers won in three sets. Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) defends against Myah Stevens (17) of North Johnston during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Ladybirds were swept in three sets. Looking on for the Lady Panthers is Emma Scott (21). Jimmy Lewis | Times

Southern Nash's Tabatha Tomaszewski (7) defends against Myah Stevens (17) of North Johnston during Monday's nonconference match in Kenly. The Ladybirds were swept in three sets. Looking on for the Lady Panthers is Emma Scott (21). Jimmy Lewis | Times

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT

KENLY — Varsity volleyball teams from North Johnston High and Southern Nash conspired to commit an astronomy delay of game Monday night that was nearly 400 years in the making.

No one seemed to mind. Not even the officials.

With the Lady Panthers holding a two-set lead over the Ladybirds on the way to a 25-20, 25-22, 25-14 sweep, play did not immediately proceed to a third set. Instead, in a scene witnessed for the first time in a high school — or any competitive setting — both teams, the limited spectators and officials briskly exited out the back door of the gymnasium to catch a glimpse of the great conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter. After the once-in-a-lifetime stoppage of play concluded, North Johnston (6-3) used a 12-3 closing run in the third set to complete its condensed three-game, nonconference slate with an unbeaten showing.

Southern Nash of the 3-A Big East Conference, which was playing in its only match outside the conference setting, dropped to 3-5.

“Once every eight or 900 years it’s going to be?” North Johnston head coach Nicole Davis said of the planetary meeting. “But what I have found is during COVID, and you come to school and a lot of things happen — and there are bad things that happen — there should be some good things we can do with kids. And so, we played Christmas music tonight with Christmas socks and we decided we’re going to go out there and look at the Christmas star. I think it’s important for kids to have some fun while they’re so overwhelmed.”

Overwhelmed wouldn’t be a word to describe the North Johnston front row, paced by freshman Logan Hodge. Belying her rookie status in varsity volleyball, Hodge tallied 11 digs and eight kills. She helped the Lady Panthers fend off a Southern Nash rally in the first set after a 21-15 lead whittled to 22-20. Providing kills on two of the final three points, the power of Hodge put the Lady Panthers on the road to a sweep.

“I think we kept it together and we stayed on top of it,” Hodge said. “We really didn’t fall apart since we won the first two sets.”

The Ladybirds tested North Johnston again in the second set after the hosts assumed a 20-15 lead. Southern Nash rallied to tie it at 20, but North Johnston claimed five of the final seven points to take a two-set lead into the astronomy intermission.

“We did a better job tonight of staying ahead in the game and staying in control, and then we’d come back.” Davis said. “And then we’d stop. One of the things we’ve talked about is being more consistent and staying ahead.”

North Johnston’s closing 12-3 run in the third set was fueled by its hitters finding open spaces on the floor with more consistency, with senior middle blocker Riley Nicol, senior Emma Scott and Hodge providing the fuel.

Nicol had six kills and nine digs for the Lady Panthers, while senior setter Gabby Hales finished one dig shy of a double-double following a 15-assist, nine-dig showing.

“I think we played really well,” Scott said. “We definitely were unified. We worked really well in practice trying to get together and mesh on the court. So I really think we were able to embody that tonight. We really just didn’t get down. We see that they’re trying to make a comeback and we just keep in our head that we need to keep going, keep pushing. All of us staying positive during the game really helped us pull out the win.”

Southern Nash, led by seniors Taylor Bailey and Ricki Bartley along the front row, scrapped and scrambled effectively in generating digs and extending rallies. But as it has struggled to do for much of the year, the Ladybirds lacked that one potent hitter on the edges that can terminate a point rather than merely extend a rally.

“We don’t have that solid powerhouse hitter,” Southern Nash head coach Melanie Hicks lamented. “We’re really well defensively, but our offensive game has got to get stronger.”

But any offensive maladies didn’t preclude the Ladybirds from agreeing to take the most unusual of in-match breaks.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Hicks said “The year 2020 is crazy, so a once-in-a-lifetime thing, we were like hey, let’s do it. It’s the Star of Bethlehem, so we’re like let’s go out there and watch.”

Even if the sanctity, decorum and orderly progression of a match in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association had to temporarily take a back seat.

“It was really cool,” Hodge said. “Especially since we’ll never be able to see it again.”

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