OCEAN — Croatan’s magical volleyball regular season came to a close on senior night Tuesday with the latest in a long line of shutouts for the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference champion Cougars.
Croatan (18-2 overall) defeated East Carteret 25-22, 25-8, 25-13 for its 17th shutout of the season and 12th against a conference opponent. The Cougars have given up a measly one set in league play while increasing its conference win streak to 21 games. It won the Coastal 8 with a 14-0 record.
The Cougars are on par with the program’s 2014 finish, in which it went 10-0 in the 2A East Central Conference and 22-1 overall with a fourth-round playoff berth. Croatan finished that season ranked No. 5 in the 2A classification, according to MaxPreps.com. This year, the website has the Cougars ranked No. 15.
East moved to 5-14 overall and 4-10 in league play with the loss.
The senior night festivities prompted Croatan coach Lindsey Gurley to play all six of her upperclassmen, an easy enough task when four of them – Kelly Hagerty, Savannah McAloon, Annie McLean and Gracie D’Amico – are starters.
“Going into the last few practices, with this night in mind, I was thinking about how I want to get all six seniors on the court tonight,” Gurley said. “That’s an incredibly easy task. Each are proficient at their positions. I can put those six on the court and never feel uncomfortable.”
The first set was the only competitive one of the night, far more than the 25-10, 25-17, 25-10 loss East sustained against Croatan on Sept. 27. The Mariners even led 12-8 before Gurley called a timeout to rally her troop of spikers.
“There were some moments where I was like, ‘What are we doing?’” Gurley said. “I do think East made some improvements from the first time we saw them. I knew the potential they had, I’m familiar with those girls, but there were times where we had no excuse for not taking care of business on our end.”
The Cougars responded with a 5-1 run to tie the game 13-13. Annie McLean served through the run, which also benefited from a Gracie D’Amico kill and a double block from Cassidy Jones and Hagerty.
East kept the score close, using a Christa Golden kill to tie it 18-18 and then a kill from Tyler Parker to take a 21-20 lead. Hagerty tied the score with a kill, only to have Parker hammer home another one for the 22-21 advantage.
After an errant kill tied the score and a subsequent timeout, Hagerty spiked another kill to put her team up 23-22. The two sides exchanged errors to award the last three points and hand Croatan the three-point victory.
“They’re the conference champions. They did what they needed to do,” East coach Daniel Griffee said.
“They’re a good team with a lot of good players. Our girls didn’t quit. They came in and fought and gave themselves a chance to win a set.”
Griffee has had quite a journey as a coach this year, starting out as the assistant for East before head coach Lauren Morgan was forced to sit the rest of the season out with the birth of her baby. Griffee also inherited the boys basketball coach and athletic director positions with the upcoming departure of Tod Morgan.
“I’m not a volleyball expert by any means, but they have worked their tails off and have been competitive,” Griffee said. “They gave it all (they had). That’s all I can ask for.”
Croatan utilized a series of runs to keep sets two and three one-sided. It scored five straight to lead the second set 5-1, a run that included serving from Shelby Waltrip and a kill from Devon Statham.
East’s Golden registered a block to make it a 6-4 game before Croatan ripped off a 9-3 run, including four straight points with two kills and a serving ace from D’Amico. Leading 15-8, libero Cammie Davis served through another five-point run with two kills from Hagerty, followed by a Waltrip-served, four-point run that gave the Cougars a 24-9 lead and the lock for the win.
The Mariners didn’t go away quietly, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in set three with aces from Grace Fulcher. Croatan crawled back and tied the scored 7-7 with a four-point run that saw kills from McAloon and Statham.
Facing an 8-7 deficit. Croatan went on another run for six points with Davis serving, two kills from Hagerty and one more from Jones. A 17-11 lead ballooned to 10 points with a four-point run anchored by three aces from Hagerty. The senior middle hitter had a whopping four kills, three aces and a block in the final set after a relatively quiet sets one and two.
“She is definitely the type of player that when she does make an error, she’s tough on herself,” Gurley said. “I have to keep reminding her not to let that define her night. She was on the bench for a bit in set two, and I encouraged her to use the last set to erase that and do what she does best. She really responded.”
A kill apiece from D’Amico and Waltrip gave the Cougars a 23-12 lead, followed by a pair of errant East kills to drive in the final nail.
Next up for the Cougars is a first-round 2A state playoffs matchup on Saturday with the opponent and start time yet to be announced.