Goldsboro versus Princeton round three more than lived up to the hype.
The teams split the regular-season series against each other, and whoever won Wednesday evening’s match in the finals of the Neuse Six 2A Conference tournament would claim the conference title.
And with a hard-fought 30-28, 25-17, 19-25, 25-21 victory over the Bulldogs, Goldsboro won the conference title and its tenth game in a row.
It marks the second straight conference title for the Cougars, who won the East Central 2A Conference title last season.
“The group of seniors that we have set markers every year,” Goldsboro head coach Pam Tart said. “And they yet again set another marker. The first year in this conference and they went out on top, so it means a lot them, and it means a lot to me for them.”
The first set was a class back-and-forth affair with both squads giving it their all, and late in the first set, a kill from Hallie Brown gave the Cougars a 21-18 lead.
However, the Bulldogs fought back and eventually overtook Goldsboro to take a 23-22 lead of their own.
Down the stretch, with the score tied 28-28, the Cougars won two straight points, which included a set-winning ace from Doris Ajagbe.
“It’s been difficult for her (Ajagbe) with bigger hitters in front of you sometimes, and she rose to the occasion. She doesn’t get discouraged,” Tart said.
In the second set, the Cougars raced out to a 17-10 lead. Princeton attempted to come back, but Cougars held off the Bulldogs to capture the second set.
With the score tied 9-9 in the third set, Princeton went on a 12-6 run to pull ahead 21-15.
Back-to-back kills from Brown cut Princeton’s lead down to 21-17, but the Bulldogs used a quick 4-2 run, capped off by a kill from London Cook, to win the third set.
“Communication was the biggest thing for us that kind of fell apart,” Tart said about the third set.
Goldsboro opened the fourth set on a 9-3 run, but Bulldogs were not going down without a fight, and late in the set, Alaina Johnson’s kill and Whitley McCoy’s ace trimmed Goldsboro’s lead down 23-21.
But another kill from Brown gave the Cougars a decisive 24-21 advantage.
“We ran two different rotations, and I actually had her (Brown) in back instead of the front, and in that last set, I flipped it back, and she got it done as she usually does,” Tart said.
Both Goldsboro (15-5 overall, 9-1 NSC) and Princeton (9-10, 8-1) qualified for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs, which start on Saturday.
The Cougars will host Fairmont in the first round, while Princeton travels to Webb.
“The second half of the season, our focus has been defense, and it’s starting to click, and it’s clicking at the right time going into the playoffs,” Tart said.