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PRINCETON — After closing out the second set to take a 2-0 lead over Neuse Charter, Princeton High volleyball head coach Paige Renfrow gathered her team together before a crucial third set.
“I think Neuse Charter is angry with you because they think that they should have two up on you,” Renfrow told her team.
“No, we deserve this,” she said her players answered.
After an early battle, the Bulldogs were in a position to sweep through the then-undefeated Cougars and shove them out of the driver’s seat in the 1-A Carolina Conference standings.
While both schools entered the match a perfect 4-0 in the conference so far this season, only one could emerge unblemished. After being challenged by Renfrow to assert its dominance, the pep talk drove the Bulldogs to victory, their 17th regular-season conference victory in a row.
Princeton closed the door quickly on Neuse Charter for a 25-19, 25-20, 25-9 win, its eighth consecutive this season.
“It’s a really big win for us,” sophomore midhitter Alaina Johnston said. “It was really good. It was really intense too.”
For the Bulldogs to preserve their now-17th regular-season conference victory in a row, Princeton found a way to swing the momentum in a constant battle with Neuse Charter.
The match played out, for the most part, exactly how both schools thought it would, with points hard to come by for both teams.
“I expected this to be a battle,” Neuse Charter head coach Gail Browning said. “Princeton has been No. 1 or 2 in this conference for a long time. So I expected this to help us figure out where we’re weak and where we can get stronger. I knew this was going to be a tough game.”
But in every battle that came throughout the match, Princeton found a way to win out.
In the first set, Princeton got off to a slow start making a number of errors, but quickly found a groove.
“The first few points, we were having trouble getting our hits in, but after that, we really played well together,” Renfrow said.
When the match came to an 18-18 tie, the Bulldogs won six points in a row to come within a point of the early lead. After trading a point each, Princeton took a 1-0 lead into the first break.
To start the second set, Neuse Charter responded with an early lead. But after tying at 16, Princeton began pulling away again, rattling off seven of the next 10 points and winning the set after service errors made by the Cougars late.
“We had a couple of service errors at the wrong time,” Neuse Charter head coach Gail Browning said.
The Bulldogs were boosted by 10 digs that set from Caroline Norris, part of a team-high 19 on the night. Norris also contributed seven kills.
Browning said after the match that after effects of an “adrenaline rush” of an early lead that never went anywhere zapped the energy from her team.
When Neuse Charter took the court again, the team was hesitant, while Princeton was confident coming out of a challenge from its head coach and won the match.
With a 6-2 lead in hand early, Princeton won six points in a row with Johnson serving. From there, it took just two more to finish the match.
Coming out of the victory, Princeton has a healthy advantage in the conference moving forward.
“I think it puts us over that hump of how well are we going to be in the conference,” Renfrow said. “I feel like it will push them because Lakewood and Rosewood have always been our strongest competitors and for Neuse to step up and be at the top with us, that’s awesome for them.”
Meanwhile, Neuse Charter saw the silver lining in its first loss.
“I don’t think we would be prepared for the playoffs if we didn’t take a loss now and find something to work on to strengthen our team,” Browning said.
Individual stats from Neuse Charter were not available.
Johnson and Le’Onna Nelson each contributed eight kills in the victory for Princeton.