In front of a raucous crowd at Pisgah Wednesday night, Pisgah and Tuscola volleyball faced off for the first of two rivalry matches this season. While Pisgah settled in after a rough first set, and the match featured several hard-fought points and sets, Tuscola’s strong start played a big role in propelling it to victory, allowing the Mountaineers to take control from the start.
The stands in the Pisgah gym were packed, as both fan bases were treated to an intense rivalry match. Before the varsity match, Pisgah’s JV team picked up a win over Tuscola, improving to 5-0 on the season.
“I think the biggest thing about that is people need to understand how fun this is to watch,” said Pisgah head coach Josh Simmons. “I thought there for awhile both teams put on a really great show. There were some points in the second or third set, there were kick saves and it was fun volleyball. People were flying all over the floor.”
Though the match was in Canton, plenty of Mountaineer fans made the trip from Waynesville.
“I know every coach says they have the best fans,” said Tuscola head coach Pam Bryant. “But we have such a great support system here. And it’s the culture at Tuscola, rebuilding the volleyball culture and it’s just awesome to have them.”
The win clinched four unbeaten years at Pisgah for Tuscola’s seniors.
“It feels really amazing,” said Tuscola senior Emma Johnson. “I’m really proud of my team for picking up the win because we lost the second set but we really picked it up in the third and fourth. I’m really proud of us. It feels amazing to win.”
While the Bears’ seniors were disappointed not to snap their losing streak to their rival at home, they know they’ll get another chance.
“It’s a big rivalry,” said Pisgah senior Carter Gibson. “So this is kind of what our one goal was, to beat them. But we have one more shot and we plan on doing it next time.”
Tuscola dominated the first set, never trailing (and only being tied at 0-0), leading by as many as 16 points and ultimately winning by 16 at 25-9. The Mountaineers used a soft touch at the net to continually pick up kills, and took the final 9 of 10 points, and last five in a row to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
“It’s always good when you can get that first set,” Bryant said. “... Just being able to have that under your belt just to say ‘Ok, now we’re settled in’, and then play volleyball.”
It appeared Pisgah would cruise to its own easy victory in set two, as the Bears dominated the early going and raced out to a 23-11 lead. The Mountaineers, however; would not go quietly, ripping off an 8-0 run to cut their deficit to four points.
But Pisgah locked in, and took the final two points, clinching the second set 25-19 on a Tuscola error to tie the match at one set apiece.
“We’ve got to learn to finish sets,” Simmons said. “All year long that’s what we’ve been working on. I’ve got to do a better job as a coach to help us continually do that. There’s a lot of sets this year, every match we’ve played, Enka, Erwin we’ve been up at the 23 or 22 mark. And we just can’t finish. And so we’ve just got to keep working to do that.”
The third set was a repetition of the first, as Tuscola put its rival on the ropes. The Mountaineers controlled the set, and closed it by taking the final eight points to go up 2-1 in the match.
The fourth and final set swung back and forth. After the Bears jumped out to a 3-1 lead, Tuscola took over and did not trail again, but Pisgah continued to fight back, cutting the deficit to one at one point.
The Mountaineers, however; took over down the stretch again, ultimately taking the set 25-17 and the match 3-1.
“We started playing as a team,” Bryant said. “That’s one of the things and the games and matches that we’ve lost is we go back and we talk about the intensity, playing as a team, staying focused and communication. And I just feel like, tonight, the three things that we focused on, they absolutely executed on.”
From here, Pisgah, now 1-4 on the season, will head south for some team bonding, playing a weekend Tournament in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s going to be good for us to be together,” Simmons said. “We’re going to be away from home, it’s just going to be us together. So we’re excited about that from a team togetherness standpoint. I told them in the locker room I really feel like that can really help our season and get us closer than we already are.
“... I think that can go a long way in helping us push forward. We’re close. We don’t sit in the locker and feel like we’re defeated. We’re close to winning a lot of these matches we’ve played. We’ve just got to overcome that little hump. We’ll get there.”
Tuscola, now 2-3, will host North Henderson Thursday night.
The Mountaineers and Bears will square off again at Tuscola on Oct. 2.
This story was written and published before Tuscola’s match on Thursday.
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