RALEIGH — Holly Springs began the year as a team with several young new players and a first-year head coach.
The Golden Hawks lost three of their first four games before turning things around, eventually entering the second round of the state playoffs riding a nine-game win streak.
That streak was snapped and Holly Springs’ season ended Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to Broughton in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A tournament, but coach Emily Rice said she was happy with how the team gelled over the year.
“At the beginning of the season we were really learning how each other played and just getting to work together, so we started out the season a little rocky… but we’ve really been picking it up, working together and working hard,” Rice said, adding that the team lost setter Jaclyn Brewington to a knee injury earlier this month. “My girls really pulled it together.”
The match opened with an extended volley to start an evenly matched first set. Broughton, led by Kati Smith’s 23 kills, nine assists and six aces, and Katja Ehlers’ 12 kills and 11 digs, won the first and second games 25-19 and 25-23.
Holly Springs (14-5) refused to go without a fight, leading for nearly the entire third set and staying alive with a 25-20 win.
“I knew it was going to be a fight for us,” said Holly Springs setter Mackenzie Reaves. In the third set I was just thinking, ‘We really want this. We’re a great team. We can do this.’ It was just a great fight, and it was really a great way to finish our season instead of just going down in three. They played a great game. They deserved it.”
Broughton opened the fourth set with a 6-0 run and never trailed to win 25-21 and advance to the third round of the state tournament for the first time since 2010.
“Winning in the first round was a big thing for us,” Ehlers said. “Overcoming it was a great moment for us knowing that our hard work is paying off.… It showed us that we can overcome other teams that are bigger than us even though we’re a pretty small team.”
The Caps (18-2) will face Durham Riverside (25-1) Thursday. Both teams are the top seeds from their respective conferences.
“We got just what we expected (from Holly Springs),” said Broughton coach Traci Smith. “We knew they had a really big middle presence. We knew they had a very talented setter. We knew they were going to be strong on defense and we were really going to have to work to find the holes, and that’s what they brought.”
Next year, the Golden Hawks will return all but one player, senior middle hitter Kaelyn Dyson.
Dyson leads Holly Springs with 230 kills and 103 solo blocks (164 total) this season.
“It’s going to be tough losing Kaelyn,” Reaves said. “She’s a really great player for us, just huge, but we’re going to have the same chemistry we had this year. It’s not going to be much different. We’re going to be very used to each other, and I have really high hopes for next year.”
Reaves finished the match with 33 assists and 13 digs. Dyson and Emily Moushegian added 17 kills and 29 digs, respectively.
Genna Simpkins added 36 digs and Ryan Haar set 22 assists for Broughton.