GREENVILLE – Emma Casto has changed her game slightly this year and it’s paying dividends at the most important time of the season.
The Riverheads middle hitter has been mixing up her attacks, going both right and left to keep opponents off balance. It’s working. Wednesday the senior finished with 11 kills and four blocks in helping the Gladiators to a 26-24, 25-14, 25-16 win over Luray in the Conference 44 volleyball semifinals. With the win, second-seeded Riverheads advances to the conference championship Thursday at top-seeded Altavista. The match begins at 6 p.m.
“I definitely have changed it up from last year,” Casto said. “Last year I was more of a right-side, but now I’ve been able to go both sides and place it more than I did last year.”
Casto’s biggest kill of the night may have been the final point in the opening set. Riverheads and Luray had a back-and-forth battle throughout the first set with 10 ties and three lead changes. Luray had its largest advantage at 16-12, but couldn’t hold the lead. With the set tied 24-24, Macey Snyder got a kill and Casto finished it off with the winner.
Winning the close set seemed to swing momentum toward the Red Pride, who jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the second set. It didn’t help Luray that outside hitter Kristen Weaver landed awkwardly on her ankle and had to leave the game. The junior didn’t return to the match.
Luray coach Julie Moore said it had a big effect on her team. Not only did they lose a key player on the floor, but her absence seemed to take an emotional toll on the other Bulldog players.
Luray was able to close to within five, but no closer, as Riverheads won the second set on a kill by Blake Bartley, one of 15 for the senior. Bartley also added 14 digs in the match.
Bartley sparked a 4-0 run in the third set with another kill and Riverheads went in front 13-7. An Olivia Modlin kill started another 4-0 run and put Riverheads in control. A Bartley kill and a Luray hitting error ended the set and match, giving Riverheads the sweep.
Snyder finished with 24 assists for the Gladiators with a lot of those going to Casto.
“She knows what I like,” said Casto of her setter. “We get a good pass from our awesome back row and it’s just kind of magic.”
Madison Cash added 18 digs and three aces in the win, while Emma Tomlinson had three aces for the Gladiators.
For Riverheads, this will be a repeat of last year when they beat Luray in the semifinals and played at Altavista for the championship.
“It’s very loud in there,” Casto said. “They get really excited. Their fans are crazy. It’s definitely an intense place to play.”
Even with that noise, the Gladiators came out with the conference title last season, beating Altavista. Casto is hoping that is the case again Thursday night.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” she said.