ROSMAN — The Lady Rams were nothing short of golden Tuesday night, receiving their “golden ticket” to the 1A State Championship match.
Starmount swept Rosman in convincing fashion, 25-20, 25-21, 25-14, in the 1A West Region Championship to snatch that elusive ticket to the title game.
“The way we’re looking at it, all that [regional] trophy is, is the golden ticket so you can go play on Saturday,” Symons said. “I told them not to be satisfied, not to be satisfied with just getting there. We want to play for that real one, and we get that opportunity.
“With everything that has gone on in these past couple years, this feels real good,” he continued. “I guess if you keep knocking on the door of the state finals long enough, somebody is going to answer at some point — and that’s what happened tonight.”
In a hostile environment in Rosman that Symons described as “Starmount’s gym on steroids,” the Rams were able to silence the crowd with a ferocious 6-1 run to open the match.
“I have been here before so I knew what was coming. We discussed that it was basically our gym on steroids,” he said. “So at practice, we turned the music really loud so we would have to understand what that distraction would be like. That’s the second time I’ve done that, and both times it has worked; it’s something I am going to put in the playbook.
“If you’re not mentally focused or have a thin skin, it will get to you and get in your mind and you’ll be done. I thought we did a hell of a job dealing with that,” Symons added. “Coming out 6-1 in the first game turned the volume down to about a 3.”
Starmount’s lead swelled out to 11-3 on an Erin Barr lob into the center of the court, but the Tigers clawed back in. Rosman trimmed the deficit down to 14-9 on back-to-back kills.
The Rams pushed the lead back out to 20-12 on two Hunter Welborn finishes and looked to run away with the opening game.
But Rosman fought back once again, cutting the deficit down to three at 23-20, forcing Symons to call a timeout.
Coming out of the break, Ashley Johnson finished things off with back-to-back kills to give the Rams an all-important 1-0 advantage on the road.
“Ashley Johnson at the end of game one was huge,” Symons explained. “If you let this team win in this environment in the first game, that mountain gets really, really big and really, really steep. When we were able to get game one, it felt good. We knew that we would be competitive all night.”
The Tigers came out strong in the second game, jumping ahead 7-4 early — their last lead of the night. But Starmount, powered by three straight service aces by Barr, pulled ahead 8-7 and never looked back.
The Rams pushed their lead out to 18-13 on a Haley Hartman finish, but once again, Rosman battled back, using a 5-2 spurt to pull within two at 20-18.
Starmount responded and put the finishing touches on the 25-21 victory to grab a commanding 2-0 lead on the road.
But even with the advantage, Symons wasn’t taking any chances with Rosman.
“I told them that this team does not quit and that they are noted to come back on people. They understood that if we gave Rosman an inch, they would take a mile from us, so we weren’t going to give them an inch,” he explained. “We wanted to keep applying pressure and make them mentally turn off.”
The Rams took that message to heart, opening the do-or-die third game with a back-breaking 7-1 burst.
After Rosman cut the deficit down to 13-10, Starmount found its killer instinct and closed the match on a decisive 12-4 run to punch its ticket to the state championship match.
“When you see the light getting dimmer and dimmer and when you get the pressure applied to you, it’s hard to keep it going. We were able to make a run and pull away,” Symons said.
“Not having a killer instinct has been one of my complaints all year,” he continued. “We’ve stumbled at the end of matches before. I’ve been telling them that they needed to learn to finish people, and it was good to see it happen tonight, especially in a match like this when you have stuff on the line. I’m hoping we’ve learned our lessons.”
“I’m pumped about it,” Barr, a senior, said between smiles. “Everybody came to play. When someone got down, we picked them up. I thought we did well.”
“I think if we come to play at states like we did these last few games, we’ll do great,” she added.
Welborn finished with 14 kills and 12 blocks to power the Rams, while Hartman recorded 10 kills and 14 digs. Barr tallied 27 assists, eight kills and three blocks.
Alli Jones went a perfect 22-for-22 on serves, while Alli St. John added four kills, seven digs and three blocks.
The Rams (26-6) advanced to the 1A State Championship match Saturday against Raleigh Charter (21-3) at Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of North Carolina State University.
Hartman, another senior, said the team is ready for the challenge.
“I’m just so excited for state. My freshman year, I didn’t get to play and now I’m getting to play — it’s just a whole different ballgame,” she added. “This is what we’ve been working towards for so long. I love my team.
“The visions of sugarplums should not be floating in our head — we should be playing our butt off,” Symons said. “I tell the girls that it takes courage to lay it all out on the floor and realize that you might not win. And if it goes bad, and you continue to lay it all out on the floor…that takes courage.
“No excuses — we’re just going to go play hard. If we win, that’s awesome. If we lose, we can wake up in the morning and be able to look ourselves in the mirror and know we left it all out on the floor,” he added.
The match is set to tip off at noon.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.