Looking for some senior night magic, the Mountaineers of Tuscola battled with the Polk County Wolverines for four sets before ultimately falling three sets to one Monday night in Waynesville.
Despite the result of the match, the Mountaineers enjoyed celebrating the tight-knit group of six seniors, most of whom have played together since middle school.
“Going through all four years being a varsity player, seeing everyone go through and then finally me being a senior after seeing everyone go just meant a lot,” Tuscola senior setter Addison Wyatt said. “I’ve gotten to play with my best friends since seventh grade, so it’s just been really meaningful.”
Wyatt’s sentiment about her teammates doubling as her best friends was shared by fellow senior Delany Buchanan, a middle hitter for the Mountaineers.
“All of them are my best friends,” Buchanan said. “I would literally choose them over anyone else, so it’s very sad that this is the last sport we’re playing even though we’re still friends.”
Tuscola head coach Amanda Belue coached the junior varsity Mountaineers for 13 years before taking over the varsity squad ahead of this season. She coached several of this year’s seniors at the JV level. Belue started all six seniors with Buchanan shifting from her usual middle hitter position to the back row.
“It’s definitely a very special group of seniors and their leadership is really going to be missed,” Belue said.
Tuscola led for much of the back-and-forth first set, opening up a 19-17 lead on a kill from senior right side hitter Hannah Wells that forced Polk County to call a timeout. Several plays later, junior libero Kayden Mallette hit the deck and came up with a dig to preserve the point long enough for the Mountaineers to put it away, knocking on the door of a first set victory with a 22-18 advantage. But Tuscola hit a cold spell and the Wolverines capitalized, scoring the next seven to take set one 25-22.
The second set was another back-and-forth one as neither team was able to build more than a three point lead. Tied up at 16, a kill by Buchanan followed by a block by senior outside hitter Abbey Webster gave the Mountaineers an 18-16 advantage and forced another Wolverine timeout. Tuscola came within a point of a second set win, taking a 24-21 lead on one of many blocks from Wells, but Polk County used a late 5-0 run to escape with a 26-24 win to take a 2-0 set advantage.
Knotted up at 18 in the third, Wells finished off four straight points on three blocks and a kill to help the Mounties build a 22-18 lead.
“I was jumping faster. They were setting really fast sets and in the first set, I noticed that and ended up picking up on it and it worked out,” Wells said.
Junior outside hitter Addie Melton picked up a kill after a perfectly-placed set by Wyatt and then Webster notched an ace and Tuscola suddenly led 24-18. Polk County hung around, but the Mountaineers claimed a 25-22 victory in set three.
“Especially in the third set, we really adjusted,” Wells said. “We saw where they were going and we adjusted to that and that’s why we won that set. But I guess just the emotions towards the end, we just kind of fell apart. Our errors got the best of us and we stopped playing our game.”
The Wolverines took control early in the fourth en route to a 25-10 set win to secure the victory.
“I’m so glad we got them at least once but wish we could have gotten one more,” Belue said.
Tuscola then won a set against regular season Mountain Seven champion West Henderson on Tuesday but ultimately fell 3-1 on the road. The Mountaineers are set to travel to Smoky Mountain for the first round of the conference tournament on Monday.