RALEIGH — It wasn’t the ending to the fall 2021 season the Camden County High School varsity volleyball team wanted.

The Bruins faced stiff competition from the Southwestern Randolph High School Cougars in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 2A State Championship game Saturday morning inside Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of North Carolina State University.

Southwestern Randolph proved its quality as it defeated Camden County 25-13, 18-25, 25-20, 25-18 to claim the 2A state championship.

Camden County (27-1) entered the match as the East regional champion.

In the first set, Southwestern Randolph (28-5), the West regional champion, secured a 5-1 lead. Camden rallied to tie the set at 6-6.

Tessa Forehand had a kill, Sam Smith posted an ace, while Mackenzie Boose and Sydney Tatum added points in the run of points for Camden.

Southwestern Randolph displayed quality defense on Camden point attempts on the back end of their side of the court.

The Cougars were also able to score points with softer shots at the net.

Southwestern Randolph closed out the first set with a kill.

Camden rebounded in the second set.

McKayla Knauss, Carlyn Tanis and Kenison Parker helped push the Camden lead to 5-0.

The Cougars cut the deficit to 6-4, but Forehand, Tanis and Parker scored points to increase the Camden lead to 10-5.

Tanis led the charge for the Bruins as they took a 20-12 lead.

Southwestern Randolph had its share of errors during the run.

The Cougars chipped away from the lead with points from Josie Allred and Payton Shiflet along with Camden errors.

The Bruins closed out the set with a key block for a kill by Boose at 23-16. On set point, a Southwestern Randolph return went into the net.

Parker noted that keeping the team’s energy up and getting out to an early lead were important in the second set. She added during the season, the team tried to play each set in five-point increments.

Knauss added the early lead and consistent runs of points were important in the second set for the Bruins.

In the third set, the Cougars raced out to a 7-1 lead.

Camden chipped away with points from Forehand and Boose on a block, a kill by Tanis and a service ace by Tatum to trim the deficit to 8-5.

Shiflet attacking at the net powered the Cougars to a 14-5 lead.

Southwestern Randolph tightened up defensively in the third set.

The Cougars led 20-9 in the set, but Camden rallied with three consecutive points to trim the deficit to 20-12.

Points by Tanis and Boose along with Cougars errors trimmed the Cougars lead to 21-17.

Knauss and Forehand scored points to trim the deficit to 22-19.

Shiflet and Riley Key lifted the Cougars late in the set with points. Key ended the set with a point off a Camden player.

In the fourth set, Southwestern Randolph got out to a 4-1 lead. Camden rallied with points from Forehand and Tanis to make it a 6-4 Cougars advantage.

Camden went on a run and got points from Carver, and consecutive kills by Knauss to trim the Southwestern Randolph lead to 13-11.

Adisyn Russell had a key dig during the Camden run.

Southwestern Randolph did not allow the Bruins to get any closer as it led by as much as seven points for most of the remainder of the set.

“We fought hard, but the bottom line was Southwestern Randolph was the better team,” Camden County head coach Ashley Miller said after the match. “Nothing that we did wrong; they were a really good team. We dug ourselves in some holes that took too long to get back.”

The coach added that she is proud of her team.

It was a standout contest for the Southwestern Randolph defense.

During the match, Southwestern Randolph players dug out shots that normally scored points for Camden during the season.

Miller noted she attempted multiple adjustments during the match to attack the Cougars, but credited Southwestern Randolph for being solid on defense.

“Defensively, they kind of reminded me of us,” Miller said of Southwestern Randolph.

Offensively, the Cougars also mixed up their attack with hard struck balls from Shiflet and Allred or with tip shots at the net that just avoided Camden block attempts for points.

Southwestern Randolph head coach Darby Kennedy noted she was proud of her team for keeping its composure after the second set and playing their style of volleyball for the remainder of the match.

Knauss paced Camden County with 10 kills, 16 digs and two assists, Tanis followed with nine kills, an assisted block, Forehand added with six kills, four assisted blocks and four digs.

Carver added two kills, 18 assists and 20 digs, Parker had two kills, an assisted block and one dig.

Boose had a kill, five total blocks (four assisted blocks) and two digs.

Camden’s Kamryn Nash posted eight digs, Sam Smith had two serve aces and 11 digs, Russell posted 14 digs, while Tatum registered one ace, 10 assists and six digs.

Coley Shiflet, a sophomore defensive specialist and libero, led Southwestern Randolph with 31 digs, four assists and one kill.

Coley Shiflet’s effort led to her being named the most valuable player of the championship game.

Her sister, Payton Shiflet, a senior outside hitter, had a team-best 12 kills, two service aces, an assisted block, and 15 digs, Allred and Molly Strider had two aces, four assisted blocks each, Carleigh Whitson posted 23 digs and nine assists, while Raegan LeRoy had an ace, a team best 28 assists and 19 digs in the win.

The Cougars played in their third NCHSAA volleyball state title game. Southwestern Randolph won 2A state championships in 1991 and 1992.

The Bruins made their first appearance in an NCHSAA volleyball state championship match on Saturday.

Miller credited her team for accepting the challenge of moving from Class 1A to Class 2A this season due to NCHSAA realignment.

“I’ve coached for a long time and this team is the most talented team I have ever coached, but also they are the true definition of a team,” Miller said. “[Saturday] just wasn’t our day, but that doesn’t take away from the 27 other wins they had this season.”

SENIOR CLASS

Saturday’s match was the final high school volleyball match for seniors Knauss, Nash, Smith, Parker, Tatum, Boose, Caroline Pait and Jade Mitchell.

Some in the senior class began their high school volleyball careers with Miller, who took over the Camden volleyball program before the 2018 season.

The coach added before she took over the program, some of the players had been playing volleyball together since their youth.

“I got super lucky to join them when they were freshmen,” Miller said.

The coach added she was fortunate to coach the group of seniors for the time she did.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls and I really don’t know what we’re going to do next year without them,” Miller said.

In four seasons, Camden appeared in three NCHSAA Class 1A state playoff tournaments in 2018, 2019 and winter 2020-2021.

The 2020-21 season had a delayed start because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The class ended their prep careers this fall with a 14-0 record in conference games en route to the 2A/3A Northeastern Coastal Conference championship, an NCHSAA Class 2A East regional championship and a Class 2A state runner-up finish.

Miller, Parker and Knauss were appreciative of the support from the Camden community and others in northeast North Carolina during the Bruins’ pursuit of a state championship this season.

The players acknowledged the support from the student section at home games and at the state championship game this season.

SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD

Before the start of the match, an athlete from Camden County and Southwestern Randolph were presented the NCHSAA North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance Sportsmanship awards.

Camden’s Kenison Parker and Southwestern Randolph’s Molly Strider were the recipients.

According to the NCHSAA, the NCHSAA is committed to promoting good sportsmanship and has partnered with the NC Farm Bureau to recognize two student-athletes from each state championship that have demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship during the season.

Camden County roster: No. 1 Caroline Pait (Sr., defensive specialist), No. 2 Kamryn Nash (Sr., defensive specialist), No. 3 Sam Smith (Sr. libero), No. 4 Carlyn Tanis (So. right side hitter), No. 5 Peyton Carver (Jr., setter/right side hitter), No. 6 Adisyn Russell (So., defensive specialist), No. 7 McKayla Knauss (Sr., outside hitter/defensive specialist), No. 8 Kenison Parker (Sr., middle blocker), No. 9 Jade Mitchell (Sr., middle blocker), No. 10 Tessa Forehand (Jr., outside hitter), No. 11 Sydney Tatum (Sr., setter), No. 14 Mackenzie Boose (Sr., middle blocker); Coaches: Ashley Miller (head coach), Jill Robertson (assistant coach); Bench personnel: Summer Forbes.