Rockets down ‘Dogs in round two

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The Roxboro Community School volleyball team was absolutely rolling — and bouncing as they headed to the bench.

Grace Hawkins and Kayleigh Gentry were smartly hitting around the taller Person blockers, sophomore Abby Lewis ripped a couple of big attacks and the underdogs from East Roxboro forced Person to burn an early timeout.

Three points later, everything changed.

The Rockets took over and cruised to a three-set sweep, 25-13, 25-12, 25-18, against RCS in the second installment of the 2019 Battle of Volleytown Monday at Person.

Person improved to 3-0 on the season, winning each by sweeps and has only given up 20 points in one of the nine sets played so far this season. The Rockets will leave the county for the first time Wednesday when they travel to Orange for a rematch of last week’s three-set rout.

Person coach Amanda Ramirez is liking where her team is early in the season.

“There are little things we have to tweak, but we’re playing well,” Ramirez said. “Communication, of course, is big for us and making sure we’re transitioning during plays and keeping our front row in good position to take full swings, but I definitely feel like we’re on track.”

The Rockets had to battle back after an inspired start from their crosstown rivals.

Person took an 8-4 lead after an Emma Duncan kill, but the Bulldogs answered by taking six of the next eight points. Lewis, one of the Bulldogs’ outside hitters, got hot, coming through with two big kills during that stretch and back-to-back aces that tied the set at 10-all, forcing Ramirez into a timeout.

The quick start was exactly what the Bulldogs needed after their season-opening loss to Person last Monday night.

“I had chills for sure,” RCS coach Hayden Rigsbee said. “I knew the girls wanted it really bad. It’s been a forever, ongoing (rivalry with) Person that didn’t just start this year. They came really strong.”

Person snatched the momentum right back and never let go.

Outside hitter Brianna Ramsey took advantage of an empty spot in the Bulldogs’ back row and got a point that started a quick 3-0 spurt and Rigsbee quickly burned one of her two timeouts to try to slow the surge.

Person kept up the pressure, winning 15 of the final 18 points of the set, highlighted by a stretch of five consecutive points on the serve of Abby Gentry.

The Rockets’ response to the Bulldogs’ early flurry changed the complexion of the match.

“We definitely had to refocus and communicate,” Ramirez said. “When our back row communicates effectively, everything runs smoothly. The second we have a lapse, that’s when everything falls apart. We did dip a little because of communication, but once we picked it up, we were fine.”

The Rockets used big runs in each of the final two sets to pull away.

Person ripped off nine points in a row in the second set, eight on Karoline Cox’s serve and closed the game by winning eight of the final 11 points.

The Rockets opened the third set by taking six of the first seven points and also had three 4-0 spurts.

“When they do one thing well, they just roll with it,” Ramirez said. “They only need that one little spark and it ignites through all of them. They push hard and just keep pushing.”

Duncan led a balanced Rocket attack with nine kills, while the middle tandem of Cox and Aaliyah Jones combined for 14 kills and five blocks. Both Cox and Jones have been focal points of the Rocket setter Lillie Davis in the early part of the season and that has helped give looks to everyone on the floor.

“Our two middles compete with each other,” Ramirez said. “When one of them does something great, the other one wants to do it, too. I think they have th best friendly competition of anyone I’ve ever coached. Lillie knows that we have to run our middles for our offense to be successful. Then it opens up our wings potentially for solo blocks or blockers getting there late, so they have more options. They’re seeing why it’s so important for us to have solid passes to Lillie so we can do everything we want.”

Ramsey finished with five blocks, while Davis had four kills on dump sets to go along with 31 assists.

Right side hitter Madison Dunkley chipped in three kills and Alex Chapman came off the bench and added a kill.

Libero Kelcey Mangum led the team with 15 digs, while defensive specialists Mariah McCowan had eight digs and Gentry finished with 10.

Despite the loss, Rigsbee is seeing major growth in her team, especially after last Wednesday’s victory against 1A regional finalist Louisburg.

“That win last Wednesday definitely helped them gain more confidence,” Rigsbee said. “It was a motivator. They played really well. I think that’s another thing that hurt us (against Person) is that the girls know how well they can play. When they don’t play as well as they know they can, they feel that. Again, it’s a completely different team from last week. All we can ask for is improvement.”

The Bulldogs will open up North Central Athletic Conference play Wednesday when they travel to Vance Charter.

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