All Northern Nash senior Hannah Connolly wanted was a kill.
Spending her entire varsity career as the Knights’ libero, Connolly was relegated to the back line, forced to watch her teammates score kills and celebrate – usually after her pass.
Hours before Thursday night’s game, Knights’ coach Patricia Haggerty told Connolly that she wouldn’t be playing libero in her final regular season game at Northern Nash High School.
Instead, Connolly put on a normal jersey – the libero wears a different color – and lined up on the front line. In fitting fashion, Connolly recorded the first kill of her team’s three-set victory against Rocky Mount High.
“I just wanted to live it up,” Connolly said of playing her last game. “It was the last one. ... It’s sad closing this chapter.”
Along with Connolly, defensive specialist Samantha Davis also made an appearance on the front line.
Despite standing just 5-foot-1-inch, Davis rotated through the entire formation as all five seniors played the first set, a 25-15 victory for the Knights.
Davis found out she was going to play on the front row just moments before the match, jumping into Haggerty’s arms in a fit of joy. After the match, she was brought to another emotion.
“I love this team,” Davis said, struggling with her words as she started to cry. “I want to play with them more.”
Northern Nash (10-7, 6-4 Big East), which will play host to Rocky Mount again in the first round of the Big East Conference Tournament on Saturday, cruised easily.
The Knights picked up a 25-15 victory in the second set and a 25-19 victory in the third set.
“It’s exactly how I expected them to play,” Haggerty said. “They didn’t let me down. They didn’t let themselves down.”
Rocky Mount (1-20, 0-10) never allowed a set to become out of hand until late. The Knights scored the final five points in the first set and seven of the last eight in the second set.
For the Gryphons, this was a learning season.
It also was a season of growth.
“I feel like we’re finally starting to mature a little bit more as an actual team,” Rocky Mount coach Tabitha Wilcox said. “... It’s how much can we do as a team. We try to live by the motto: There’s no ‘I’ in team. Now, we’re finally starting to groom ourselves into that team.”
With five seniors on the court and the majority playing out of position, junior setter Caroline Jenkins, who recorded 20 assists, was forced to play traffic cop at times in the first set.
She had to remind some of her teammates where they were supposed to be. Although, it didn’t seem to matter too much as the Knights scored four or more straight points six times in the first two sets.
As a libero, Connolly wasn’t used to standing on the front line.
She seemed comfortable there, even if sometimes towered over by her teammates. But now that the regular season is behind them, the Knights are focused on an upset.
“Next week, we’d like to be in a position to upset and No. 1 or No. 2 seed and give ourselves a better seed in the playoffs,” Haggerty said.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com