Playing through the pain


Hoggard's Cassidy Stephenson celebrates after a point against Laney on Thursday night in a Mideastern Conference matchup of county rivals. (Photo by Jeff Janowski)


Before each volleyball practice and game, Hoggard senior Mary Anne Szymeczek dutifully wraps her right wrist, prepared for the discomfort about to follow.

Szymeczek's wrist hasn't felt quite right since she sprained it last winter during a club match, but the daily wrapping ritual doesn't seem like a choice for the outside hitter who lost her starting spot during an injury-marred junior season. She's managed to stay on the court, a constant for a squad that has had to shuffle its lineup early this season because of injuries.

On Thursday, Szymeczek turned in her finest performance of the season in a road sweep of Laney. She managed power and finesse around the net en route to a season-high 14 kills as the Vikings beat the Buccaneers, 25-19, 25-21, 25-21.

"This is my last season ever, so I want to play through the pain," Szymeczek said. "I'll go [back] to the doctor after playoffs and everything. I really want to make this season count."

Hoggard (7-1, 4-0 MEC) didn't play its best but managed to stay perfect in Mideastern Conference play, impressive given the parity so far. Three weeks into conference play, the Vikings already have a two-game cushion atop the standings.

Laney (4-5, 2-3) made all three games competitive, but Hoggard had enough offensive weapons to quell each threat with Szymeczek and junior Alyssa Zupan (10 kills) doing the most damage.

Szymeczek is content to play a supporting role for 6-foot-1 classmate Cassidy Stephenson on most nights. She said she tries to bring a calming presence to the floor to counter Stephenson's fire.

Junior setter Peyton Apel (31 assists) relied more on Szymeczek this time, and she delivered. Senior Brooke Zebraski had six kills and Stephenson, an Appalachian State recruit, added five.

Laney led the third game, 20-19, before the Vikings closed strong. Junior Elly Cosgrove ended the match seven points later with a kill.

"That's the sign of a great team," Hoggard coach Ron Strickland said. "If one person is struggling, somebody else picks it up. You don't have to rely on the same person every night."

Laney coach Ruby Sutton focused on the positives afterward, saying her team showed major improvement from its listless effort in Tuesday's loss to New Hanover.

Senior Karly Shanahan paced the Buccaneers with four kills and 10 digs and senior Lillian Donovan pitched in 11 digs.

"I can sit on the sideline and tell what kind of mood they're in," Sutton said. "Today they came in and were hitting the ball well in warm-ups. They were passing the ball well, communicating, and it carried over. Tuesday, it was like everyone was a zombie."