Going into Saturday’s game against the Chapel Hill High School Tigers, the Person Rockets were one of the most dominant teams in the 3A state playoffs. The Rockets had only dropped one set in their playoff run, which occurred in their third round game, and the Rockets were making easy work of their opponents.
Enter Chapel Hill High School, who is the seventh-ranked high school volleyball team in the state. Going into this match, the Tigers had not dropped a single set in the playoffs. The Tigers would dropped a set in this match, but the won the war, 3-1. The score was 25-21, 25-15, 16-25, 25-18.
In the first set of this state quarterfinal match in Chapel Hill, both teams got off to a solid start. The Rockets and Tigers were trading points before the Tigers eventually went on a run and took the first set, 25-21.
In the second set, the Rockets scored the first point of the set, but the Tigers came clawing back, winning 25-16 to put them one set win away from advancing to the state semifinals.
In the third set, the Rockets recorded the first point once again, but this time, the Rockets never looked back, winning 25-16 in dominating fashion. The Rockets were able to stop the offensive attack of the Tigers, one that had been giving the Rockets fits in the previous two sets. The net play was on point. The Rockets recorded kill after kill, and block after block. Whatever the Tigers threw Person’s way, the Rockets were able to stop it.
“Strong net play is not just with shutting them down with blocking, it also sets up our defense,” Coach Amanda Ramirez said. “If we have holes in our block, or our block isn’t there, then our defense isn’t able to do their job.”
For the Rockets, the holes in their block showed in the fourth set, as the Tigers recorded multiple kills in succession and took the fourth set, 25-18, putting an end to the Rockets’ conference-leading, two-loss season.
Although the game did not go the way the Rockets and their fans had hoped, the Rockets played good volleyball. There was one aspect in particular of the Rockets’ game that Ramirez praised.
“Our serving was solid. Even a couple of misses we had, they were good misses. Also, I think that we were able to get our front row solid sets and really put the ball down. We were very effective there.”
Despite the loss, Ramirez was all smiles after the game. Her team had just lost, but she was more than proud of how they went out.
“Over the season, I think our service game and defense really grew. At times tonight, it didn’t necessarily show because they got us with a lot of tips early on. But I feel like that’s been good with our group. Our offense I think, coming in earlier this season, we only had one or two people who were consistently finishing for us, and here at the end, we have an excellent hitting line.”
The Rockets were a young team coming into the season, with eight juniors, three sophomores, and only one senior. They were replacing the production of four seniors from a season ago.
“Starting out this season, we knew that we had a lot of young players on our team,” said Ramirez. “We also brought on a couple of new players that came from RCS. We knew that we had a lot of things that we needed to work on, with different positions, being young. As the season’s progressed, we have consistently grown as a unit and as a team. That’s just something I’m going to think about as we finish up.”
If a coach has a young team like Ramirez does, it means a lot of players will be returning to the lineup next year. In the Rockets’ case, all of their starting lineup is returning.
“Technically all of our players are returning, expect for one,” said Ramirez. “We have one senior, so we’ll have a potentially very large senior class. Our libero’s a sophomore this year. One of our defensive specialists is a sophomore. Our setter is a sophomore. You’ve got the kids that come up from junior varsity.”
Even though the Rockets had just dropped their playoff match, Ramirez is already looking forward to next season.
“Our entire starting lineup is coming back. It’s pretty awesome. Because then again, half of them are sophomores, and the rest are seniors,” Ramirez said. “Pretty much all of them are going to be playing competitive club ball. So, we should have a pretty strong team. Playing club is crucial. If they don’t play club, it definitely shows.”