Red Hawks face Senators for fourth time with District title on line

Red Hawks’ Siena Naotala (17) fired up alongside setter Amber Barker (4) during the 2019 Region 10 conference tournament. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ Catawba Valley Athletics)Red Hawks’ sophomore middle hitter Sage Harrington (5) celebrates with some of her teammates during the 2019 conference tournament. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ Catawba Valley Athletics)Red Hawks’ freshman outside hitter Aasia McNeill (3) and freshman libero Caitlin Dailey (6) attempt a block during the recent Region 10 conference tournament. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ Catawba Valley Athletics)
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The fifth-ranked Catawba Valley Community College volleyball program seeks its second-straight national tournament appearance on Saturday when it hosts the Southeast District final.

Champions of Region 10 for an eighth-straight year, the Red Hawks (32-4) face Region 7 champion Walters State (20-8) in the district championship match at 2 p.m. at the Tarlton Complex.

Unlike last season when it was incorporated with the Region 10 tournament, the District final now takes place on its own one week after both Region 10 and Region 7 crown their respective champions.

“It’s a lot different for us,” said CVCC head volleyball coach Shannon Hudson. “This is the first time in my 11 years that this is kind of the way the tournament has been set up. There is definitely a different feel.”

Despite the change in District format, Hudson sees positive benefits from having time off.

“I like that we have a week to prepare,” she said. “The girls can really focus on the one opponent that we have to beat. It gives a little more time to rehab and allow some of the the girls to recover from some of the little bang ups at the Regional tournament. We’ve given them a little bit of time. We didn’t have morning workouts on Monday to allow them to recoup and recover from a long weekend of play.”

Saturday’s match will be the fourth this season between the Red Hawks and Senators. CVCC has won all three contests, including a 3-0 win at home on Sept. 24 and a 3-0 victory on the road on Oct. 29.

The closest match between the two schools came Oct. 12 at the Wallace State Fall Bash in Hanceville, Ala. when the Red Hawks edged the Senators in a hard-fought five-set match.

“We played really well against them at their place the last time we met,” Hudson said. “We beat them in three here. We struggled a little bit in the match when we faced them in Alabama. They played really well. We don’t want to take anything away from them. They had a really good match against us, but we were still able to win even though that went to five (sets). When we went to their place this past week, we beat them in three and played really clean. I think the focus for us is not making those mental errors and playing clean. I think if we can do those things, we’ll be successful again.”

The one aspect of Walters State that impresses Hudson the most is the Senators’ ability to control the volleyball.

“They are able to do a lot of things because of how well they pass the ball in serve receive and how many volleys they keep going with their strong defense,” she said. “That’s not something we see a lot. With lot of teams we play, we are able to terminate in the first couple of volleys. With this team, you typically don’t. They keep the ball up and alive. They make you work harder for each point.”

With several injuries to key players, including Region 10 Player of the Year Emma Clark and All-Region performer Meredith Patterson, players had to dig deep during this past weekend’s Region 10 tournament.

Despite those absences, the Red Hawks passed with flying colors, winning all three of their matches in 3-0 fashion.

“We’re deep, and we’re very versatile,” she said. “All of the girls have been practicing all year long. For some of them, it was chance to get in the game and make a big impact, and they did. That was nice to see several key players step up and contribute to the offense in a way that they haven’t been able to all year long. I think that speaks to their hard work and their dedication to the team and the way we are able to run our offense to get more people involved. It makes it tough to defend us when you know that we just don’t have one weapon. We have lots of talented girls who are able to make big plays in big games.”

Hosting the District final on Saturday might come with its share of pressure, but Hudson has tried to shift her team’s focus.

“I think the girls are excited to play at home,” she said. “They are excited to play in front of their family and friends. A lot of them wouldn’t have been able to make it if we played it somewhere else. I think it’s more of an advantage. Obviously, they are comfortable here. They play here every day. We practice here every day. This is their court. We are definitely more difficult to beat on our home court. Advantage us when it comes to that. We’re just trying to minimize the pressure of the situation and just telling our girls to go out there, be themselves, play to the best of their ability and not try to do anything outside of themselves. If they do that, I think we’ll be just fine.”

A win on Saturday would send the Red Hawks to a second-straight National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) DII National Tournament and the program’s ninth overall national appearance — something Hudson hopes her players can achieve and experience.

“The girls have worked so hard this year,” she said. “We really do have the talent and skills to be able to compete at the national tournament this year. I’m hoping and praying for them that they are able to make it through this weekend so they can have that experience and be able to see what it’s like to compete at the national tournament. It’s just kind of the ‘icing on the cake’ for an amazing season. If it doesn’t happen, that’s okay, but these girls have worked hard. They definitely deserve it.”

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