McDowell Lady Titans volleyball coach Jessica Finley knew going into state playoff action that the rigors of going through the Northwestern Conference schedule would put her veteran squad in a position for success.
And from the performance shown on the floor Tuesday, McDowell was ready to put that experience to good use.
The fourth-seeded Lady Titans, in their most aggressive output of the season, swept 13 seed (Matthews) Butler 3-0 at home in the first round of the State 4A Playoffs.
The win for McDowell (8-4) was significant in several ways.
First, the victory snaps a long, postseason losing streak. McDowell's last state playoff win was by the 2013 Lady Titans, who beat South Caldwell in the opening round before falling to Hough.
Prior to that, the previous playoff victory was by a 2011 MHS team that went 21-5 and advanced to the third round before being eliminated by Hough. Finley shares a bond with both squads as she was a member of the 2011 team.
The win also validates the strength of the Northwestern 3A/4A’s upper half in this abbreviated season. Watauga, the 3A West Region’s top seed, cruised to a 3-0 win against North Henderson on Tuesday, while Hickory, seeded 12th, went on the road to beat five seed Western Guilford in four games.
“It was very important for our team to win this game,” said Finley. “Losing games this season to Hickory and Watauga, it was important for our girls to move on from those losses now that we are in the playoffs.
“They knew it was do-or-die at this point and our girls showed that they were not ready to quit. I’m real proud of what this group has done all season and for them to come out and played like they did shows a lot about their character.”
The Lady Titans used their serve to set the tone from the opening tip. A total of seven aces by McDowell in the first game resulted in an easy 25-12 rout of the Bulldogs.
That aggressiveness continued in the second as a 25-11 win gave the Lady Titans a 2-0 lead in the match.
Butler finally showed signs of life in the third, leading by a 12-11 margin. But a run of six consecutive service points by McDowell pulled the Lady Titans ahead for good. Staked to a 17-12 lead, McDowell finished off the sweep with a 25-18 score in the third.
“From what I got to see before the game I felt that our service game was an area that we could take advantage,” said Finley. “Jada (Cannon), Lucy (Hames) and Emily (Register) and the team as a whole did well finding the soft spots defensively.”
The senior duo of Jada and Jessica Cannon continued to lead the team offensively. Jessica had a team-high 11 kills and 11 digs against the Bulldogs, while Jada added 10 kills, eight digs and five service aces.
Daisy Rice (5 blocks), Register (4 digs, 4 blocks, 3 aces) and Kelsy McPeters had two kills apiece.
McDowell’s defense was also on par in Tuesday’s match, making several nice plays on scoring chances that Butler tried to materialize.
Katie Baker had 19 digs at libero. Hames (2 kills, 3 aces), a senior who has been a do-it-all type of performer this season, had 22 assists and 15 digs. Elaina Rampey and Clementine Miller recorded nine digs each in the victory.
The competition will increase a few notches in Thursday’s second round as McDowell will host the unbeaten fifth seed, Providence (15-0). The game is set for 5:30 p.m.. The Panthers swept Jordan 3-0 on Tuesday evening in the opening round.