VOLLEYBALL: Polk downs Highland Tech for 1A regional title

Published 12:35 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

By Jed Blackwell

 

Ada Kelley might’ve been a step too far away.

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Still, she had plenty of time to react to the volleyball, take a kind of half-lunge toward it and tip it over the net. She sent it floating between a pair of Highland Tech players, softly to the floor.

And she punched Polk County’s ticket.

Kelley’s tip was the final point in the Wolverines’ 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-21) win over the Rams in the 1A West Regional final on Tuesday night, sending the Wolverines to the state championship match on Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum. Polk County will play Falls Lake Academy in a rematch of the 2018 state championship final, won by Falls Lake. Game time will be announced later this week.

“It feels awesome,” Kelley said. “Heading to state in my senior year is a dream come true. It really is.”

To get there, Polk County did what they’ve done all year – they found a way. And on Tuesday night, that way had a lot to do with Morgan Yoder.

Yoder was dominant for most of the match, finishing with 12 kills, two block assists and two aces. It seemed like every time she touched the ball, something good happened for the Wolverines. She twice broke ties in the first game, as the Wolverines rode out a tense contest for a win. She started game two with a combo block with Kelley, won one of the match’s biggest points with a cross-court kill and pushed the lead to double digits in a pivotal game two. She scored the first four points of game three with four straight kills, including another of those cross-court daggers, where she seemed to look off defenders before firing back the other way.

“Their opposing blocker was on me,” Yoder said. “She knew during warmups that I was hitting to the left. I knew that if I wanted to score and be effective, that the right side and swinging that way was the best way for me to do it. I was just going to keep doing it until it didn’t work anymore, and they didn’t stop me from doing it.”

While Yoder was providing plenty of flash, Sophia Overholt continued her steady playoff pace. She followed up back-to-back 16-kill games to help get the Wolverines to the regional final with 17 on Tuesday, adding 20 digs. She recorded her 1,000th dig in the match, and then finished off game two with a kill.

Polk County coach Molly Hill, who won her second West Regional title in three appearances, said the play of both standout hitters was crucial for the Wolverines.

“Morgan was dominant,” Hill said. “Sophia’s been consistent this whole playoffs. When we’ve needed it, we know we can get it from her. Morgan stepped up big-time. I kept telling Zaelea (Eller, Polk County’s setter) to feed them, and she got the hint. She kept getting the ball to them, and it was great.”

As talented as the Wolverines juniors are, though, it was the seniors who were doing everything required of them to advance.

“We have four seniors on this team,” Hill said. “Unfortunately Mikala (Fisher), one of our seniors, got hurt in school, not even during volleyball. She’s out right now. But we had Elena (Carroll) playing libero. Ada played outside all the way around. Zaelea playing setter, touching every ball.

“Their role, and I’ve talked to them about it, is huge. And even Mikala’s leadership role while she’s injured, people feed off of her. The position that they’re in, they’ve got to do what they have to do and make sure they’re on and they’re confident. They really stepped up for us.”

Hill said the opportunity to play for a title is something the Wolverines won’t take for granted.

“It gives you chills,” she said. “I’m excited. They’re excited. We want this, and we’re ready to make some history.”