Lady Red Devils win first state title

The crowd at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh chanted "making history," and that's exactly what the Newton-Conover volleyball team did.

The Lady Red Devils (29-5) won three-straight sets to defeat the previously unbeaten Northeastern Eagles (22-1), winning their first state volleyball championship in school history — 25-14, 25-21, 25-19.

"I don't think they had getting beat today in their vocabulary," said N-C coach Linda Richards. "They were very confident from the get-go. I think it showed on the court because it took that confidence to get through some tough times."

N-C senior Isabella Zaliagiris, who was named 2A championship game most valuable player, drove down 22 kills and dug up nine kill attempts, while Corbin Evans added 14 kills and 11 digs.

"We just had to have the bigger heart," Zaliagiris said. "Who is going to lay it all on the line? Who is going to give it 150 percent the entire game? I think we proved that we were the team that was willing to do that tonight."

The victory gives coach Richards her 481st career win and her fifth state title overall among the 2A and 3A ranks.

"I'm really proud of them," Richards said. "We've had several tough games. They just stuck to the game plan. They've worked hard to get here, and they finished it. It's their day."

Racing out to a 7-1 lead, Newton-Conover made a statement early in the first set.

"It's such a back-and-forth game," Zaliagiris said. "They made a couple of runs on us. I just think we kept our head held high the whole game. I didn't see one face drop the entire time."

The run gave the Lady Red Devils a lead they didn't relinquish in the first set, eventually winning by 11 points.

Prior to that set victory, Northeastern had only dropped two sets all season, both coming in their 3-2 second round playoff victory over Cedar Ridge.

N-C led early in the second game before Northeastern won 5-of-6 points to take a 12-10 lead. The Lady Red Devils took a timeout, but Richards said she didn't see weakness in her squad.

"I never did feel the nervousness in the huddle," she said. "I felt the confidence from them vibrated off of them and their teammates. Even when someone made a mistake, they knew they could come right back. They weren't afraid for a ball to go to anyone else. There was never any shakiness in the huddle. They knew they had the confidence. They knew what needed to be done."

Holding off a Northeastern charge, N-C won seven of the final 10 points in the set to take a two-set advantage.

Zaliagiris and Evans led the Red Devils with four kills each in the set.

For the second-straight time, senior setter Mary Hinson served on the final point of the set.

"It was a team effort," said Hinson, who had 20 assists in the championship game. "No one slacked off. It took desire and heart."

Behind, but not out, the Eagles made the Red Devils sweat until the very end, but Zaliagiris finished the championship effort, driving down three kills and an ace late to put the set away, clinching the first volleyball crown at Newton-Conover.

"It's amazing," Zaliagiris said. "I haven't even thought about all the things to come tomorrow or at school. I just wanted to win. I'm glad we got this."

For many other Red Devils, the joy of a title is overwhelming.

"It hasn't really hit me yet," Hinson said.