Published: Aug 30, 2012 03:13 PM
Modified: Aug 30, 2012 03:14 PM
CARY - Apex senior Megan Hooks said she was nervous, which is a typical feeling entering an Apex-Green Hope volleyball match.
Both programs have been in the top two of the Tri-9 Conference each of the past four seasons, meaning every meeting from the 2008 season on has had conference championship implications. What is there to be at ease about?
But Hooks and the Cougars felt right at home during Tuesday’s match. Nobody worried when Green Hope cut into the lead with a long rally in game one. And despite being two points away from dropping game two, Apex was calm.
And that helped carry Apex, ranked sixth in the N&O Triangle Top 15, to a 3-0 sweep of No. 6 Green Hope with a 25-21, 25-23, 25-20 victory.
First-year coach Emily Regan decided to exercise her team’s mental strength leading up to the match.
“(Regan) had us do drills where we would be behind by five points and we had to win the game. And if we didn’t, we would run,” Hooks said. “She just prepared us through the week: being down and having to come back up, and being mentally strong and having each other’s back and having confidence in each other.”
Regan had heard stories about last year’s trio of battles between the two defending co-conference champs, each adding a thrilling chapter in the rivalry’s recent history, starting with Green Hope winning three straight games to take a 3-2 win at Apex. Apex came back to shock Green Hope 3-0 before Green Hope eked out a 3-2 tiebreaker game for playoff seeding.
This year’s first meeting had its close moments, but for the most part, the poise of the Cougars swayed the match during tense times.
“This is the best I’ve seen them play so far this year,” Regan said. “We need to be a mentally tough team. We had a breakthrough in practice and it showed here.”
The Apex defense was sound, with seven different players combining for 34 digs and Brianna Belicic leading the way with 12. Sophomore setter Ally Beckman handled the ball 72 times and had just one error to go with 19 assists. Sophomore Anna Patrick had a match-high six blocks.
Hooks had a match-high 16 kills, and they came at crucial times.
“Although a lot of people see it as we lost a lot of individual talent (from last year), really, it’s a great group of girls, and we really have bonded, not only on the court, but off the court,” senior libero Melissa Mayfield said. “So when we’re on the court, the chemistry works really well.”
Apex (5-1, 4-0) jumped out to an 8-1 lead in Game one, but watched it dissipate quickly. Green Hope (2-3, 1-2) took its first lead at 14-13 and was down 20-19 in the closing stages. But the Cougars won five of the last seven points.
Green Hope led 14-9 in Game 2, but Apex rattled off six straight points. The rest of the set was back-and-forth, but Apex closed out the game with four consecutive points after being down 23-21.
“It was definitely a momentum changer for Apex,” said Green Hope coach Karl Redelfs.
The third set was led by Apex from wire-to-wire.
Green Hope, who also has losses to fellow top-15 teams in Leesville Road and Holly Springs, was led in kills by sophomore Margot Ruffiex (13) and senior Madison Brown (12), assists by junior Caroline Neideffer (30) and blocks by senior Rayna Yvars (four).
“I told them it’s not where we start, it’s where we end,” Redelfs said. “Once the (halfway point) of the season starts, that’s when we want to kick it into gear and start peaking... the most important thing is that we continue to learn, adjust and be able to play well together.”