The Big Purple played at times as though it was in a purple haze, but the never-say-die Riverside team clawed back Tuesday night to win a 3-2 heart stopper against an equally determined Fuquay-Varina squad to advance to the third round of the state 4-A volleyball playoffs.
“That was like a 15-round fight, man,” said a jubilant Riverside coach Mike Hodge. “That was a thriller. That’s probably the toughest match we’ve played all year.”
“They were relentless, and at times we got rattled,” Hodge went on. “I told the girls, ‘You have to be prepared to fight the whole match. You can’t play hard for 5 points and take a break for 2 points. You have to fight, and fight, and fight. This team does not want to go home, and we do not want to go home either.’”
The Pirates will play at home at 6 p.m. Thursday against Broughton, which is 18-2 and is the No. 1 seed from the Cap Eight 4-A Conference. Riverside is the No. 1 seed from the PAC-6 4A.
“Our biggest problem this year that we had to overcome is a mental game. Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5 was all mental. We got ourselves in too big a hole and couldn’t overcome it,” said Fuquay-Varina coach Jeff Pagel.
“Games 2 and 4 we actually fought back like we could have won those games, but Game 5 we couldn’t overcome that,” Pagel said.
The Bengals looked dominating at times, and had Riverside off its game. Big hitter Zariyah Thomas was struggling at the net while the Bengals batted her bombs back and scored. The Pirates looked confused at times under the pressure, and at other times had trouble finding the box on the other side of the net.
But with the match tied 2-2, it all unraveled for Fuquay-Varina under a wilting Riverside offensive barrage.
“The last game we didn’t block well, we didn’t cover well on block coverage, their outsides controlled the game. They dominated,” Pagel said. “We couldn’t do anything against their outsides. Our outsides couldn’t do much against their defense.”
“They were beating us up pretty good” on the net, Hodge said. “They ran a lot of misdirection and we were not penetrating on the ball. … Testimony to us but we played good defense. We had a lot of digs.”
The fourth set “looked really bleak for us. We were down a lot,” Hodge said. The Pirates trailed most of the set, fell behind by as much as 5 points, but finally tied it at 19-19 before squeaking out a 25-23 spread to send it to Game 5, where the Pirates jumped out to a 5-0 lead and then cruised to a 10-5 run to win it 15-5.
“It worked out. I couldn’t have scripted this. I’m really proud of this team. I’m the happiest man alive today,” Hodge said.
“We started out kind of slow but in the end it was all heart. I think we have the most heart in the entire state and that’s what’s going to come through for us,” said 5-8 senior setter and co-captain Casey Speer, who had 43 assists.
“We always rally. I have no doubt in my mind we’re going to win. We will do what it takes,” Speer said.
Still, she admitted, “After we lost that third set my stomach dropped. I was confident, but there’s always that thought in the back of your mind that it’s all over.”
“We gave 100 percent out there tonight. We left everything on the floor,” said senior co-captain and libero Victoria Pearce, who had 33 digs.
“We noticed that they kept blocking us so we just told our hitters we have to make smart changes and push it into the deep corners, push it short, tip it, do whatever we had to do to get it in the court,” said the 5-4 Pearce.
The adjustments work, Speer chimed in, because “We’re a very adaptable team.”
NCHSAA 4-A PLAYOFFS
Riverside 3, Fuquay-Varina 2
20-25, 25-22, 18-25, 25-23, 15-5
Riverside leaders — Rachel Kallianos 21 kills, 19 digs; Zariya Thomas 21 kills; Moné Jones 7 kills, 6 blocks; Yakima Clifton 7 kills, 1 block; Victoria Pearce 33 digs; Casey Speer 43 assists.
Records — Fuquay-Varina 16-5; Riverside 25-1.