Photos by Deon Cranford.

Ellerbe still chasing top spot in college standings

On Thursday, the Ellerbe Middle volleyball team again used a great serving performance to earn another victory. With a three-set victory (25-12, 25-20, 25-15) over Spring Hill Middle at home, the Lady Wildcats are now 7-1 going into the final week of the regular season.

Ellerbe currently sits second in the conference standings and will play its final two games of the season on Monday and Tuesday, with Monday’s game at undefeated Sandy Grove possibly determining who will claim the number one seed for the conference tournament. On Tuesday, the Lady Wildcats will close their season on the road at Carver Middle, a game that was postponed from last week.

It’s an incredible turnaround for a program that was winless just a season ago.

Ellerbe wasted no time in knocking out Spring Hill on Thursday with Kenley Smith opening with five straight service points, including four aces. The team continued to serve well, but also used strong rally play, including several impressive digs and passes from Madyson Cloninger, to make a 12-2 run and quickly put the first set out of reach. A short back-and-forth followed, but Kaylee Connor entered the service box and recorded the final two service points in the 25-12 first-set win.

It looked like the momentum had changed at the start of the second set. Spring Hill opened on a 7-1 run forcing Ellerbe coach Jonathan Chavez to call a timeout.

After the fast break, Ellerbe returned to form with Abby Robinson snatching six straight aces on an 8-0 run forcing the Lady Spartans to call a time out. The two teams traded points for a while until Cloninger (19 service points, 3 aces) took over. With the energetic eighth-grader in the service box, Ellerbe collected the next six points (two aces) to advance five points at 22-17. From there, the home side held on for a 25-20 win to move to 2-0 in the game.

Errors plagued both teams early in the third, but Ellerbe’s Alisson Gonzalez Santiago took over and made a series of solid defensive plays to keep the rallies going and put the Lady Wildcats on a string of runs, which given a 14-8 advantage and a spring. Hill timeout.

Lillian Hill added to the lead with six straight service points, including an ace. After a short run from Spring Hill, Ellerbe closed the set and scored four straight points with Connor on serve.

With two big games to come to close out the season, Chavez feels his team is gelling at the right time to enter the final week. “We will continue to work hard in training,” Chavez shared. “I see stronger chemistry among the players which will make us a stronger team.”

Smith had 14 successful serves with 9 aces, Hill had 9 successful serves with 1 aces, ZyRihanna Robinson had 6 successful serves, Kaylee Connor had 7 successful serves with 2 aces, Santiago had 4 successful serves with 2 aces and Robinson had 9 successful serves with 6 aces.

Jonathan Chavez provided information and statistics for this story.

Rockingham defeats Hamlet in a rivalry match

Rockingham’s volleyball team won their annual rivalry match at Hamlet Middle School with an impressive 3-0 rout of the Lady Red Rams (25-22, 25-20 and 25-23).

Hamlet (6-3) entered last week with a loss and an opportunity to move to No. 1 in the conference standings, but back-to-back losses to Sandy Grove and Rockingham dropped the Lady Red Rams to fifth place. Rockingham (6-3), on the other hand, used a pair of wins over County opponents Cordova and Hamlet to climb the standings – starting the week in sixth place and ending it in fourth.

The match was ultimately decided by the success or failure of late rally efforts. In the first set, the Lady Red Rams led by seven points, but a stellar serve combined with some ill-timed errors from Hamlet allowed the Lady Rockets to steal the set by 3 (25-22).

In the second set, Hamlet’s Riley McDonald did everything she could to stop Rockingham’s solid serve from allowing the Lady Rockets to drift away. McDonald had three kills and two digs in the opening moments of the second set, keeping his side one point behind the visitors (7-6, Rockingham).

After trading the next few points on errors, an ace from Hamlet’s Kalynn McCormick tied the set up at 10-10.

With Madisen Jackson serving, Rockingham followed with a devastating streak of 6 points, including three aces. Also on the run, Rockingham’s Addison Butler managed to tip a ball uphill after it deflected off the net. What seemed destined to be a Hamlet point turned the other way when Butler’s point raised the ball straight into the crosshairs of team-mate Haley Singleton who slammed the ball into open space for an impressive kill .

With all the momentum and a 7-point lead (17-10), the Lady Rockets kept their foot on the accelerator. After the two teams traded points on errors, an ace from Singleton and an error from Lady Red Ram forced Hamlet to take his second timeout of the set.

Trailing 21-13, the Lady Red Rams hoped to mirror Rockingham’s first rally with one of their own. Aces from Mcdonald and Aimee Lynn Dobson combined with a kill from Lexi Smith helped a 6-2 run to bring Hamlet within four at 23-19. The Lady Rockets managed to settle in and outlast Hamlet on a pair of long rallies to claim a 25-20 set two win.

Jackson and Butler helped Rockingham start well in the third set, but McDonald’s big plays once again kept the Lady Red Rams close.

With her team leading by one point at 8-7, Rockingham’s Abbie Taylor rotated into the service box. Taylor had 8 consecutive service points, including five aces, to give the Lady Rockets a 15-8 lead.

The Lady Red Rams would later use an ace from Annika Briggs and a trio of errors from Rockingham to cut the deficit to three at 16-13. McDonald, Briggs, Dobson, Smith and Mackenzie Quick all seemed comfortable jumping past the Lady Rockets’ hard serves and putting them in play, taking away Rockingham’s advantage.

After winning a few long rallies, the Lady Red Rams found themselves trailing just one point at 18-17.

After a murder by Butler stalled Hamlet’s comeback efforts, consecutive wins by Jackson put the Lady Rockets one point away from winning the set and match at 24-19.

McDonald refused to go down without a fight. After a Rockingham error returned the ball to the Lady Red Rams one last time, McDonald slapped three line serves to the Lady Rockets that they could not control. With the score now at 24-23, McDonald sent another missile just over the net in an effort to tie things up, but it passed the Lady Rockets and landed outside the baseline giving the point, set and match at Rockingham.

The Lady Rockets are set to claim their third straight win when they travel to a struggling Anson Orange on Monday, while Hamlet could have their hands full with a scrappy Cordova side looking to bounce back from heavy losses last week.

Rockingham Boys and Ellerbe Girls lead Richmond County Racers in meet

The college cross country teams played their second meet of the season at Spring Hill Middle School on Thursday.

Among the boys, East Hoke (23) won the day. Rockingham (54), Hamlet (70), Cordova (81) and Ellerbe (95) finished second, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively out of the eight competing teams.

In the girls’ race, there were only four participating teams. West Hoke (28) finished first while Ellerbe (48) finished second, Hamlet (53) finished third and Rockingham (70) finished fourth.

Times for the Rockingham Boys: Bryan Mendoza 3:16 p.m., Patrick Smith 3:00 p.m., Jaxon Perhealth 4:54 p.m., Liam Ellis 4:38 p.m., Carter Hunt 4:54 p.m. and Logan Carter 6:17 p.m.

Times for Rockingham Girls: Dayanna Franco 5:07 p.m., Cameron Veach 8:23 p.m., Hallie Allen 8:15 p.m., McKensey Puckett 10:53 p.m., Blair Miller 11:00 p.m. and Ashtyn Wilson 11:15 p.m.

Individual timetables for other schools were not available at press time.

Amanda Gainey and Grover McDonald provided information for several counties.