Vakeria Jett

Vakeria Jett (above) and Alexis Mirfield combined for 12 kills against Pontotoc.

PONTOTOC • Can you dig it? Caroline Howard sure can.

The junior libero reached a career milestone as her Pontotoc volleyball team knocked off New Albany 3-1 (25-22, 24-26, 25-15, 25-19) in the second round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs on Saturday.

Pontotoc (17-4), the Daily Journal’s No. 5-ranked team, will host Corinth on Tuesday in the state semifinals.

Howard recorded 60 digs, giving her 1,004 for her career, in leading a strong defensive effort by the Lady Warriors.

“Caroline’s practically a coach on the floor. She’s incredible,” Pontotoc coach Annie McGregor said. “The way she moves and the way she communicates with her team, it’s contagious.”

Howard also had seven kills – which is a lot for a libero – and three service aces. Her kill in the third set gave Pontotoc a 17-12 lead and helped spark a 9-3 run to close the set.

“The libero, you’ve got to control the back row,” Howard said. “I trust my setter to control the front row, and I control the back row, and we work really well together.”

After taking the first set, Pontotoc appeared in control but blew a 13-7 lead in the second set. But the Lady Warriors quickly recovered.

“We found our groove,” McGregor said. “What I love about this team is something can set them back, but it doesn’t set them back for good. They just find a way to shake it off, and then they get on to the next point.”

These teams met twice in the regular season, with Pontotoc winning both times. So its front line knew what to expect from New Albany hitters Vakeria Jett and Alexis Mirfield, who had 12 kills apiece.

Over the last two sets, Samya Brooks and De’Aisha Browner limited that duo’s effectiveness. Brooks finished with five blocks and Browner had four.

Browner had back-to-back blocks in the fourth set in a 10-2 run. Howard’s ace capped the spurt to make it 21-13.

New Albany (7-13) hurt itself with 10 service errors.

“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” New Albany coach Ashley Connolly said. “We can’t do that against a team like Pontotoc.”

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