BOONVILLE — Starmount volleyball clinched a playoff spot Wednesday night with a win against East Wilkes, but it did not come easy. Tied for second in the MVAC, the winning team knew for certain it’d be headed to the state tournament, and both teams showed they wanted it.
Starmount (13-10, 10-4 MVAC) and East Wilkes (10-10, 9-5 MVAC) treated the game like a must-win, but only one team could grab it. Down in the first set, and again in the second, the Rams came rallying back to win 25-20 and 25-23, respectively. They’d go on to win the third set 25-15 for the match. One of the big reasons behind the rally in the first two sets was senior Ashley Johnson.
“When you’re willing to play not for yourself, but for a teammate, your team, for whatever entity other than yourself, you become selfless on the floor,” Starmount Head Coach Jon Symons said. “They played for her, and they weren’t going to let her down tonight.”
“Once we figured out our game plan, we really executed it well tonight, and that brought us back with points,” Johnson said. “Going into the playoffs, we need to know how to execute like we did tonight… and tonight felt like a playoff game, so I think that will help us.”
Johnson had 25 digs and 13 kills on the night, but perhaps her most impressive feat of the night was something that can’t be put in a stat sheet. Johnson displayed leadership and composure to pull the team together when they were down 22-19 in the second set, and in the first set as well. Senior night is always emotional, but Johnson and the team battled through their emotions because they knew what was at stake.
“Tonight was for Ashley, but we needed to get the emotions out of our head and come to play,” sophomore Maggie Freed, who also had 25 digs, said. “We all made it that we needed this win so we can get a home match Saturday.”
Starmount won’t have to hit the road for their game Saturday afternoon, and while that’s certainly an advantage, they didn’t celebrate Wednesday’s win for long. They’ve got to move on to Robbinsville (Saturday at 4 p.m.), and fast.
“I’m gonna miss Ashley, but we’re not done yet. If we approach it with a one-and-done mentality, and know what’s on the line, and get back to playing for each other, we can beat some teams,” Symons said. “We’ve got to be in the right position. We don’t want this to end.”
On the opposite side of the court, East Wilkes would have liked a guaranteed spot, but the Cardinals did make the playoffs by virtue of a wild-card. They will travel to West Montgomery Saturday at 6 p.m. With uncertainty at the time, senior Chelsea Edwards said her team was playoff ready if it can play at its potential.
“I think we played pretty good the first two sets. We were playing well, but just couldn’t pull it off in the end. After today, it’s a new beginning, it’s like a new season for us and we’re going to try to start off strong and hopefully make it as far as we can,” Edwards said.
Preliminary seedings and brackets were announced early Thursday afternoon, but official brackets did not come out until past press time. However, check online at elkintribune.com for times which will posted when available.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.