North Myr­tle Beach vol­ley­ball has ul­ti­mate goal in sight

The Sun News - - Front Page - BY T.J. LUNDEEN

On the doorstep of com­plet­ing their sea­son-long goals, both North Myr­tle Beach and Pick­ens’ vol­ley­ball teams are pre­pared for an epic show­down, as the two teams will bat­tle on Satur­day for the Class 4A vol­ley­ball state cham­pi­onship.

The Chiefs (23-5) earned their way to state by knock­ing off ri­val Myr­tle Beach 3-0 on Tues­day to win the Lower State crown, while Pick­ens (29-1) dis­patched Daniel 3-0 in the Up­per State fi­nals. Com­bined, the teams won 18 sets in the bracket, with the lone set loss com­ing by North Myr­tle Beach against Aiken.

Each team dom­i­nated its re­gion, go­ing un­de­feated against their ri­vals and neigh­bors.

Now, with just one game left in the vol­ley­ball sea­son, the coaches are look­ing for an edge to bring home a state cham­pi­onship to cap off a dream sea­son.

“Play­ing loose is the key for us,” said North Myr­tle Beach coach Alex Sing. “This team has been play­ing to­gether for a while, some of them have been start­ing on var­sity since their fresh­man year. They know how to play to­gether and what we do well, they just can’t let the mo­ment get to them and tighten up.”

For Pick­ens, the mo­ment is fa­mil­iar, as they played for state against Myr­tle Beach last year, fall­ing in the match. For coach Rikki Owens and the Blue Flames, this year has been about redemp­tion and men­tal pre­pared­ness, rather than the on-court skills.

“We have fo­cused so much on our men­tal game this year, be­cause last year’s loss (at state) we fell apart men­tally,” she said. “The girls have kept jour­nals and we’ve read ‘The Con­fi­dent Ath­lete’ as a team to en­sure that they are as ready as they can be men­tally.”

The on-court re­sults of the men­tal prepa­ra­tion have been dev­as­tat­ing, as Pick­ens ran through the Up­per State bracket with no is­sues. Owens’ team is as tight-knit of a squad as she’s ever seen and they love to play to­gether.

“They are the clos­est group I’ve ever been around, they ab­so­lutely love play­ing to­gether,” Owens said. “They are ac­tu­ally sad about the sea­son end­ing, even though they’re play­ing for state. They don’t want to turn off the lights in the gym and have to move on past this sea­son. That’s how much they love each other.”

With suc­cess on the floor, the Blue Flames have had less hard­ships to worry about than in years past. That suc­cess is due, in large part, to the in­cred­i­ble ath­letes in the mid­dle of the Pick­ens at­tack.

“We have a set of twin tow­ers in the mid­dle of, one 6-foot-4 and an­other 6 foot with a huge ver­ti­cal. We also have an ex­tremely tal­ented set­ter who gets them the ball where they want it,” Owens said. “We def­i­nitely go to them for a lot of points. In vol­ley­ball, you win

matches by get­ting kills and th­ese girls have been able to do that through triple-teams and over blocks all sea­son. We aren’t go­ing to change our game at this point of the sea­son, we’re go­ing to do what we do best.”

On the North Myr­tle Beach side, the Chiefs are ready for their shot at a tro­phy, af­ter fall­ing in Lower State to Myr­tle Beach last sea­son and see­ing their ri­vals hoist a cham­pi­onship.

“We have been build­ing to­ward this for a few years,” Sing said. “Last sea­son, we beat both teams that played for state (Myr­tle Beach and Pick­ens) and we were dis­ap­pointed in the end. This sea­son, we’ve fo­cused on our side of the net and have had suc­cess with that. This team is hun­gry to com­pete to be the best in the state.”

While fo­cus­ing on their own game, the Chiefs are also aware of what Pick­ens does well.

“Hav­ing played them in a tour­na­ment last year, we’re at least fa­mil­iar with what their style is on the court,” Sing said. “Un­less some­thing changes, we know they’ll play to their strengths in the mid­dle of the court and we’ll have to be ready to dig it out. They’ve got some mo­ti­va­tion, hav­ing made it to state last year and lost, so we have to be ready for a tal­ented, hun­gry team.”

Not hav­ing faced each other in their cur­rent form, both coaches are re­ly­ing on scout­ing re­ports to gauge their op­po­nent. At Pick­ens, there will be no film study — they’ll rely on in­stinct and skill.

“I haven’t got­ten any film or a real scout­ing re­port, that’s not how we’ve done it this sea­son,” Owens said. “I’ve reached out to a cou­ple of coach­ing friends who have played North Myr­tle Beach and have tried to get a feel for what they do, but my play­ers won’t watch any tape. We did that last year and I found that we don’t do well with it. I want them re­act­ing and us­ing their in­stincts, rather than try­ing to re­late to what’s been done on film.”

Both coaches are ex­pect­ing a tough con­test that will be back-and­forth. Owens has faith that her play­ers will per­form with their backs against the wall, while Sing has seen his team re­spond to pres­sure all year.

“Through­out this sea­son and even in the play­offs, we’ve done well when we have to have it,” he said. “Even (against Myr­tle Beach in the Lower State fi­nal) we dug down deep and found suc­cess. Sure, play­ing with a cush­ion is less stress­ful for us coaches, but this deep into the sea­son, you’ve got to ex­pect tight scores. We feel like we’re ready for any­thing we face.”

When he ad­dresses his play­ers on Satur­day, Sing will tell them how for­tu­nate they are to be in the po­si­tion to play for a cham­pi­onship, how proud he is of their work so far, but he will chal­lenge them to fin­ish the task.

“They’ve got to en­joy the mo­ment, most teams aren’t play­ing vol­ley­ball right now,” he said. “This is a spe­cial time to be to­gether with your team. But, they also need to know that we want to keep that tro­phy on the Grand Strand. That’s the goal for them on Satur­day.”

North Myr­tle Beach and Pick­ens will bat­tle for the Class 4A vol­ley­ball state cham­pi­onship on Satur­day at 4:30 p.m. at While Knoll High School in Lex­ing­ton.

JOSH BELL jbell@the­sun­

North Myr­tle Beach ju­nior out­side hit­ter Kaydee Ru­nion at­tempts to block as Myr­tle Beach’s Megan Mck­e­wan taps the ball over the net Tues­day.

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