Cougar comeback

South Brunswick Cougars (from left) Rexi-Lee Harris, Cali Watson, Lindsey Welch and Ashley Barber celebrate their comeback victory over West Brunswick on Thursday night. (Photo by Jeff Janowski)

SHALLOTTE | On the verge of a disappointing bus ride back to Boiling Spring Lakes on Thursday night, the South Brunswick High School volleyball team turned to junior Cali Watson to salvage an uninspired performance.

After dropping the first two games to West Brunswick, the Cougars pinned their slim comeback hopes on Watson's powerful right arm, and the middle hitter delivered the offense needed to overcome a shaky start with one big hit after another.

Watson slammed a game-high 16 kills along with four blocks and five aces as South Brunswick rallied back to beat the Trojans in five games – 18-25, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18, 15-11. In the first Mideastern Conference meeting between the county rivals, the Cougars pulled out their third straight 3-2 win in the series.

"I think we expected to win just because we did last year," Watson said. "We thought it would be easier than it was, but they didn't give it to us. We had to work for it. We realized we had to wake up and play."

Huddling before the third set, South Brunswick (3-2, 1-2 MEC) could believe in a comeback thanks to a forgettable memory. Last week, the Cougars won the first two games at Ashley only to let the Screaming Eagles take the match.

West Brunswick (4-1, 1-1) hadn't lost a game all season before South Brunswick cruised in the third, scoring 13 of the first 17 points. The Cougars pulled away late in the next one behind Watson. The middle hitter had six kills in the fourth before serving three straight aces to force the decisive game.

South Brunswick never trailed in the fifth and won on a peculiar play. Senior Meeka Hewett blocked Watson on an emphatic strike, but after West Brunswick had begun celebrating the point, the official ruled she'd touched the net, ending the match.

Watson's dominating run was aided by sophomore Rexi-Lee Harris. In her first season replacing All-Area setter Kacy O'Connor, she dished out 25 assists and became more consistent feeding Watson and junior Kelsi Kazmierczak as the game went on.

"In this league we're playing in, you have to bring your A-game every Tuesday and Thursday if you want to be competitive," South Brunswick coach Wes Kidd said. "If not, you're going to get waxed off the court real quick. I think they're starting to understand every night matters."

Meantime, West Brunswick couldn't sustain its fast start, plagued by mistakes serving and receiving serves.

Senior Olivia Babson paced the Trojans with 15 kills, four blocks and four aces. Senior Nicole Phillips had seven kills and a team-best 12 digs, while Hewett added seven aces. The teams meet again in Boiling Spring Lakes on Oct. 1.

"It's a rivalry game, and the hype is there," West Brunswick coach Leslie Reeves said. "(My players) came out ready to play, and it was almost like they got nervous and froze. And then the passing just went terrible."