Union Academy storms back to take down Neuse Charter in four sets
RALEIGH – Union Academy captured the program’s first volleyball State Championship, coming from down a set to knock out Neuse Charter 3-1 in the 1A State Championship Game. The Cardinals’ Anna Ungerer played an exceptional match, finishing with 21 kills, 3 aces, 19 digs, and earning MVP honors for the match.
The first set started out evenly, but a few errors and couple of Neuse Charter kills, particularly one from Julia Bridges on a misplayed first ball by the Cardinals at 12-7, helped the Cougars stretch out a comfortable lead in the first set, eventually getting to a seven-point advantage at 14-7.
After a diving one-armed dig on the last ball over, Bridges rose to drive a set ball down the left line and give the Cougars an 18-11 lead, staving off some momentum from Union Academy trying to mount a charge in the set. However, with set point looming, the Cardinals reeled off four straight points to close the gap to 24-21, but Bridges slammed one down the left line to close it for Neuse Charter.
Union Academy took command of the second set winning five of six consecutive points early in the set to go up 8-4 and force a Cougar timeout. Out of the timeout, Union Academy continued the pressure, adding two points on a net violation and a powerful kill by Brooklyn Calkins to go up 10-4. Harper Flowers helped stem some momentum, blocking a pair of shots down for the Cougars to trim the Cardinal lead to 11-7.
With the second set transitioning to latter stages at 15-10, Neuse Charter won a long rally on a scrambling play before Bridges pounded one off the Union Academy block and out to trim the lead to 15-11. The Cardinals took the next two points on Cougar errors, forcing a timeout at 17-11 to try and pause the momentum building for Union Academy. Despite the timeout, the Cardinals kept the pedal down, extending their lead to 21-14 before the Cougars mounted a mini-rally off of two Cardinals errors to knock the lead down to five. That was as close as Neuse Charter could come, as Union Academy tripped off two straight points and melted away the final few points for a 25-17 set win as Ryleigh Clayborn slammed a kill to the deck to end the set and even the match at a set-a-piece.
Union Academy picked up right where they left off in the third set with Clayborn powering a spike to the floor to go up 1-0 followed by a shot off the block by Gabriela Gama to make it 2-0. The Cardinals kept hammering away with Calkins and Clayborn keeping Neuse Charter off balance, stretching the lead out to 10-3 before a timeout by Neuse Charter. Out of the timeout, the Cardinals enjoyed a few points off Neuse Charter errors to go up 16-3, shifting the full momentum of the match into their favor, running off to a 25-11 set win and a two set to one lead in the match.
The fourth set started off with a Union Academy kill off the hand of junior Lauren Munday followed by a service ace from Gama. Then Clayborn powered a middle hit to the deck to go up 3-0. Neuse responded with a slam by Harper Flowers to trim the lead to 3-1 and down to one on an attacking error by the Cardinals. Neuse Charter knotted the set at 4 with a kill off the block by Bridges.
The two teams scrapped back and forth with ties at 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8-all, each team experiencing leads throughout the stretch. The Cougars surrendered a pair of points on double-hits, giving the Cardinals a 10-8 lead in the set, before Union Academy pushed the lead out to 13-9 on a 3-0 run. The Cardinals edged out to a seven-point lead with an ace by Anna Ungerer that made it 19-12 and forced a Cougar timeout as their hopes started to wane. The Cardinals finished it off with a flourish to close the set 25-18.
Neuse Charter finished their season 26-3. The Cougars wrapped up the conference season 10-0, champions of the Carolina 1A. They won the program’s first regional championship, appearing in the State Championship Match for the first time in school history in any program.
Union Academy posted a 27-2 season record on the season, winning the Yadkin Valley 1A/2A Conference. The Cardinals appeared in the school’s first Volleyball State Championship Match after winning the Western Regional Title for the first time in program history.
The 1A Volleyball NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Award winners were Julia Bridges from Neuse Charter and Gabriela Gama from Union Academy.
2021 1A Volleyball State Championship
1 2 3 4 5
Neuse Charter (26-3) 25 17 11 18 X
Union Academy (27-2) 20 25 25 25 X