The upset may not have been expected based on the seeding, but Green Level’s win in the second round against Hoggard felt just as significant as a win in later playoff rounds.
Despite facing a tough opponent on the road, the Gator attack strategized methods to exploit the Vikings’ varying levels of size and athleticism, resulting in a 3-1 win. This victory secures the team’s place in the “Sweet Sixteen” for the third year in a row.
Behind the matchup
The highly anticipated second round match between Cary and Wilmington was one of the biggest events on the schedule. The court was filled with promising future college players, many of whom have already committed to schools like Kentucky, NC State, James Madison, Coastal Carolina, and Holy Cross.
The Vikings secured a top-5 placement in the tournament due to their versatile offensive tactics. Setter Megan Kelly recorded over 700 assists throughout the season to a group of five players, each averaging at least 1.8 kills per set. Despite a rough start in August, Hoggard found their groove and dominated in Mideastern Conference games, achieving a perfect 15-0 record and winning 33 out of their last 34 sets leading up to Tuesday night.
Before entering the playoffs, Green Level faced tough competition in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference. Despite losing three games in a row, they were able to bounce back with a sweep against Topsail in the first round. They had faced many challenges during the regular season and were well-prepared for any challenges that came their way in the playoffs.
How it happened
The Green Level team took control of the game from the start, consistently leading throughout. The Gators were ahead in the first four sets with scores of 5-1, 6-1, 7-1, and 4-1.
The first set of the game ended in a 25-14 win, showcasing head coach Alston Godbold’s ability to utilize the team’s depth by utilizing key players from the bench. Maddie Bereman, the newest member of the varsity team, had an impressive serving streak with three aces in the first set. Lindley Miller and Riley Taylor also joined the game and contributed to the team’s lead, which quickly grew to double digits.
Utilizing the energy of their boisterous supporters, Hoggard managed to even the score in the second period.
In the second set, Mia Elder and Winn Godier of the Vikings were down by five points. However, they started to gradually decrease the deficit. Despite Green Level’s efforts to defend against every attack, Elder and Addie Norman joined forces to successfully block and energize the home team. This led to Hoggard taking a 17-16 lead. From then on, the Vikings maintained their momentum and ultimately won the set 25-21.
During this high-pressure competition, it was believed that there would be a moment when Asia Thigpen from Green Level would need to make her mark on the game. This moment arrived in the third set as she consistently soared for powerful kills, ultimately leading the Gators to a dominant victory with a score of 25-10.
The fourth round resembled the previous one as Green Level completed their win in the second round.
Tristin Holt, a senior, delivered a standout performance with several impactful plays on both offense and defense at the net, aiding in the Gator’s run. She was a key contributor in the fourth set, helping Green Level secure a 7-3 lead. Talia Francom saved her most impressive plays for the end, scoring a kill and an ace to extend the lead to 13-9. Despite Hoggard’s efforts to make one last push, a kill by Miller and a block by Francom ultimately sealed the match with a final score of 25-17.
As the 12-seed, Green Level is required to keep playing away games. They will be facing 4-seed Gray’s Creek on Thursday night, with the opportunity to advance to the regional semi-finals on Saturday. The team’s victory on Tuesday brought their away record for the season to 6-5. Overall, the Gators currently hold a record of 17-6.
After a successful four set victory against (13) Heritage at home, Gray’s Creek boasts a record of 23-2 going into their next match. Throughout the season, they have only been defeated twice, both times by conference rival Cape Fear, who holds the number one seed in the 3A east bracket.
Hoggard finished the year with a record of 27-6. This marks the 11th season in the past 17 years that the Vikings have recorded more than 20 wins.