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Chargers end historic season

111019-AG Volleyball
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Ayden-Grifton is awarded 2A State Runner-Up after losing the championship match to Foard at Fayetteville State University on Saturday.

111019-AG Volleyball
111019-AG Volleyball

By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 9, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE — It was a rough ending to what had been a historic season for the Ayden-Grifton volleyball team Saturday night, as the Chargers fell to West region champion Foard, 3-0 (25-15, 25-12 and 25-10).

“We just weren’t there tonight. It wasn’t our game,” Chargers senior outside hitter Emily Dykes said.

Dykes had a team-high eight kills on the night to go along with eight digs and two service points.

“I think they tried as hard as they could,” A-G head coach Linda Bryant said. “I’m extremely proud of the way my girls played. In the first set, I think there were some nerves, and in the second set we really struggled with our passing.”

Passing and movement were a point of emphasis for the Chargers heading into the game, a recipe that led the program to its first-ever state title appearance.

“I told the girls, ‘At the end of the day, win or lose, you made history,’” Bryant said. “Who knows how long it could be before Ayden-Grifton comes back to the state finals?’ This doesn’t just happen year after year. You have to have a very solid program in order to do that.”

The consistency over the years came primarily from three star seniors in Dykes, Aaleyah Garris and Bryant’s daughter, Alexia.

Garris had 11 digs, two service points, a kill and two blocks on the night. Alexia Bryant recorded nine digs and six kills.

“The journey (with these seniors) has been great,” Bryant said. “They came in as freshmen and I saw the potential in all three of them.”

Three other seniors, Mikayla Olejar, Ivy Hood and Caroline Congleton, will also depart the program following graduation.

The experience of coaching her daughter through the high school ranks is one Bryant said she is sure to remember.

“It’s been awesome,” she said. “We talked about this as she was getting ready to come up and I told her that I would be on her more because she is my daughter. She’s done a great job and I’m proud of her.”

Bryant originally inherited a program that struggled to put together winning seasons. In the end, however, she took the rural program and built it into a powerhouse not only in volleyball-rich Pitt County, but also in the state.

“I had a colleague ask me about how to do that (build a program),” Bryant said. “The key is to get your kids involved in club sports. If you can get them into the club sports, it will build them up to where they need to be. I know that Emily, Aaleyah and Alexia all played on club teams. It really helped build the foundations they needed.”

The state title appearance was the final game not only for the Chargers’ six seniors, but also for Bryant. She announced that she will not return to the helm of the Chargers squad next season.

“The girls knew, I had talked with them about that,” Bryant said. “I had also told the faculty and my assistants. I wanted to go out on a high note, and I think that was a good way to do that.”

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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