An inch closer to glory: Lady Tigers’ varsity volleyball defeats Brevard in 2A West Regional Final, 3-0; looks for 1st state title since 2005

Lady Tigers’ Jamianne (17) and Martina Foster (20) go for a block up front in the 3-0 sweep against Brevard on Linda Richards Court on Tuesday, November 5. (Photo by Marcus Smith)Foard junior Megan Dorsey (11) going for a kill in the first set of the 2A West Regional Final match with the Lady Blue Devils on Tuesday, November 5. (Photo by Marcus Smith)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

Some say one can’t relieve the glory days. The Fred T. Foard Lady Tigers have proven time and time again in 2019 that it is the exception to the rule.

There is a history in its volleyball program cultivated by legendary coach, Linda Richards – who led her teams to three state championships. The problem had been, though, the team’s state of flux since its last 2A State Title win in 2005 (1995-1997, 2002-03 and 2005.)

Nevertheless, the culture has indeed shifted in the Lady Tigers’ favor the last couple of years led by Foard’s second-year head coach, Meredith Lombardi.

A former Lady Tiger in her own right, Lombardi has taken pride in leading this group of young women to the promised land.

With the 3-0 sweep over No. 2-seed Brevard (26-6) on Tuesday night on Linda Richards Court, the magical run of this Foard team has been one for the ages as it advanced to Saturday’s 2A State Championship match in Fayetteville. Foard (31-1) will challenge the East No. 3-seed Ayden-Grifton (22-5) at Fayetteville State University in Capel Arena slated for a 7:30 p.m. start.

It was even more special as the team was able to get the job done in the first season of the newly renamed court.

Once the Lady Tigers were able to pull out the victory, nothing but tears and emotion could flow out of Lombardi.

“All the credit goes to them,” said Lombardi with tears running down her cheeks about the will of her team. “They’ve put in all the work. It just shows that this is just so rewarding as a coach to like see them like that. I’m sorry I’m getting upset, but it’s so rewarding. No one let up. It was like, ‘No. This is our game. We want this more’ and they took it to ‘em, and just all the credit goes to them.”

The West Regional Final against the Lady Blue Devils was a hard-fought battle as to be expected.

In the first set, neither team could get a full head of steam as it was a back-and-forth encounter. Neither team could jump out to a lead more than three points at a time before its opposition stormed back. A few plays late by junior Megan Dorsey gave the Lady Tigers the narrow edge, 25-23.

Dorsey put the icing on the cake in the set as she scored several of the last points with kills toward the end, including a dagger down the right side for the final set point.

In the second set, Dorsey put her squad on the board first with a nasty kill down the left side. No one can say she doesn’t have an absolute cannon for an arm and when the kill-switch is engaged, she’s almost unstoppable. It was tit-for-tat early in the set, with no room between the two, as the Lady Devils took an early 4-3 advantage.

However, the turning point of the set came via Foard’s star hitter, Michelle Thao. Thao knocked down a kill for a 10-10 deadlock followed by an ace on serve that put the host-team ahead, 11-10.

The Lady Tigers continued its momentum as junior Jamianne Foster earned a kill of her own to give her team a 12-10 cushion.

Nevertheless, Brevard rallied back to earn three straight points to bump ahead 13-12. That wouldn’t last long, though, as Foard tied it up at 13 followed by a finesse shot by Sierra Ward to give her team the 14-13 lead.

Thao continued her strong play with yet another kill to push Foard ahead by two, 17-15. The next big play for the Lady Tigers came by none other than Dorsey. She made a spectacular one-handed diving save to help set up the eventually killshot by Thao, leading 18-16, at the time.

Not to be outmatched by anyone, sophomore Martina Foster demonstrated her hitting ability as she earned a strong kill through the middle to force a Brevard timeout with her team ahead, 19-17.

The Lady Blue Devils didn’t show signs of quit and following the timeout were able to rally back for a 21-20 lead. Ward wasn’t having any of that, though, as she collected the kill in the middle to tie it up, 21-all with the fans in attendance going haywire.

Consecutive mistimed hits by Brevard led Foard to earn the 23-21 lead. This forced a Brevard timeout to regroup. The point was probably moot as the Lady Tigers scored consecutive points to end the set with a 25-21 win – the final point being on a front line block by Sarah Lingle and Ward.

The Lady Tigers and their fans were going crazy after the set as they realized at that time they were one set away from going to a state championship.

In the third set, Dorsey picked up where she left off. Down 1-0, she capitalized on a splice through the Lady Blue Devils’ front line for her first kill of the set to tie it 1-all. Teammates Haley Johnston, Ward and Dara Shaffer came to her to celebrate inside of a raucous Copas Gymnasium.

Thao capitalized once more to put Foard out in front early, 5-2. The momentum was all in the Lady Tigers’ favor as Thao earned a strong kill to lead, 6-3. Leading 7-3, Brevard had back-to-back miscues to give Foard a 9-3 advantage.

Jamianne Foster dominated up front, as she and the rest of her team had done for most of the set, en route to another kill to force a Lady Devil timeout with a 12-6 stronghold.

The Lady Tigers scored consecutively after leading, 14-7. The first came on a big block by Lingle followed by yet another dagger by Thao down the right side – which pumped her up even more – to force another Brevard timeout.

It was kill city down the stretch of the third and final set for the Lady Tigers beginning with Martina Foster, giving her team a 20-13 lead. Thao would then garner another ace – her third of the night – to jump ahead, 22-13. With Foard in the lead, 24-14, Brevard rallied back with three straight points.

However, Dorsey would once again be the closer as she connected on the final killshot to lead her squad to a 25-17 victory.

Dorsey finished with 10 kills and seven digs while Thao garnered a team-high 13 kills, along with 11 digs. Johnston and Lingle each garnered 18 assists while Johnston obtained seven digs and Lingle collected 10 digs along with two aces.

Senior Makenzie Sutton also got in on the action with two aces of her own. Shaffer did what she does so emphatically, as well, in earning a team-high 12 digs on defense.

The Foster sisters dominated, as well, with Martina obtaining nine kills and Jamianne earning six kills of her own.

“I think we played as a team,” said Jamianne Foster about the historic victory over Brevard. “In the second set, we messed up a rotation but I think we pulled it together as a team and we really picked it up and figured it out. It was all one team and not just one individual person.”

Her little sister, Martina also had good things to say about the team’s play. She said that the team just played together even through the bad rotations in the second set and that she felt her teammates picked it up collectively in the winning effort.

It was not only special for the team to go through the journey this season, but it’s also a special run for the Fosters.

“Sometimes we get into some arguments because we’re literally always together at home and volleyball and we see each other at school, but it’s an honor to play with (Martina),” said Jamianne Foster. “Our bond is truly so great and she is truly my best friend.”

Martina shared similar sentiments toward her sister as they have got to enjoy this run together.

“I mean, (Jamianne’s) going to be going to college soon and it’s going to be really hard to not play with her and I’m really enjoying the time we have together now,” she said. “I’m going to suck up every moment I can.”