No matter the sport, the rivalry between Rock Hill and Northwestern tends to bring out the best in both the athletes and spectators. Such was the case Tuesday night at Northwestern High School as the Lady Bearcats' volleyball team swept the Lady Trojans 3-0.
With the win, Rock Hill (15-2, 13-1) earned the title of Region 3-AAAA co-champions. Despite tying for the title with Fort Mill, the Lady Bearcats earned the first seed in the playoffs by virtue of points. Northwestern (12-5, 9-5) tied for third with Clover, but will be seeded forth in the playoffs due to the tiebreaker.
The sweep did not indicate how closely contested the adversaries matched up with each other, as Rock Hill won all three games by identical 25-23 scores before a large turnout of supporters for both teams.
The three games were eerily similar and closely contested throughout. All three games came down to a couple key plays late, with Rock Hill making the plays when they counted the most.
The jeers and cheers started early when a group of Northwestern student, clad in togas, crown and purple and gold body paint entered the gym beating a drum firing up the crowd.
Not to be outdone, a group from the Rock Hill student body arrived bare-chested spelling out "RHHSCATS", along with posters that served as both words of encouragement and megaphones.
The gym was energized after Northwestern's JV squad held off a late Rock Hill rally, and the excitement increased throughout the varsity game.
Northwestern had ample opportunities in each of the three games, but succumbed to pressure, allowing the Lady Bearcats to take control. Northwestern led the first game 20-17 after four consecutive points by Kellie Hernandez. Rock Hill rallied, but still trailed 23-21 before Karlee DuBard served the final four points of the game.
The second game once again saw Northwestern take a 23-21 lead, but a timely spike by Rock Hill's Brooke Lucas forced a side out and DuBard finished the game with three successive serves. DuBard placed the ball well all night, gently placing it where Northwestern could not gain control.
Rock Hill took control of the third and final game behind DuBard and middle blocker Paulette Rivers. Rivers was a thorn in Northwestern's side all night, and paced the Lady Bearcats to a 21-15 lead.
The Lady Trojans bounced back, and went on an 8-1 run appearing set to force a fourth game, but a couple of unforced Trojan errors and three great serves by Rock Hill's Morgan Brazzell sealed the win for the Lady Cats.
The loss put a sour note for five Northwestern seniors: Brigid McCarthy, Lindsay Senn, Kellie Hernandez, Kelsey Fincher, and Caroline Culp who were playing their final home game on senior night.
"It is almost like we have a mental block any time we play Rock Hill," said Northwestern coach Angela McGuire. "We had four missed serves that is not typical of our team. Coach (Cindy) Elder has a great program over there, and we are striving to get where they are.
"I am excited about the playoffs because we'll likely play a team that our kids know nothing about. That is generally when they play their best. We have five seniors who have worked hard for us. Hopefully, they will step up and lead us in the playoffs."
The mental errors were not unique for Northwestern, as the Lady Bearcat coach echoed some of the same comments.
"I thought we played a little tentative at some points tonight," said Elder. "We responded well when we fell behind and overcame some mistakes. We finally found our rhythm late in the games and were fortunate to win. This was a great atmosphere for high school volleyball and both schools had tremendous support.
"Paulette Rivers played well for us tonight. She is still learning the game, but with her vertical leap, she is an outstanding blocker for us. At times, she can play too aggressive, but when she plays under control, she is a huge contributor for our team."