A celebration that comes once a year never gets easier for Mount Airy coach Chuck Morris. Senior Night celebrates the legacy of Lady Bears seniors as they play their final high school regular season home match.
“It’s always bittersweet,” Morris said. “You want to see them go out and get into the world, but you hate to see them go away. It’s just one of those things that has to happen every year. I’ll miss them, like I do all of the kids that graduate from here.”
Mount Airy’s four seniors led the Bears to a 3-1 victory over Elkin Wednesday night. Each of the Lady Bear seniors had a chance to exit the court for the final time as the crowd stood and cheered, an honor Morris said was well deserved.
“They’re just a really great group of kids with a lot of really, really big energy,” Morris said. “They’re pretty eclectic kids. Our libero Meredith Cox probably has more fire than any kid that you see out there. Hannah Williams, when she’s on, hits the ball as hard as anyone does. She’s really developed into a much better defensive player and she is just lightning fast.”
Morris continued, “Piper Draughon has probably made the biggest leap since last year as far as her consistency is concerned. She’s learned to hit the ball and has more shots than she had at the start of the year. Finally, I can’t say enough about Hanne Cooke. She plays with a massive amount of energy. She’s never down on anyone. Sometimes she overplays a little bit but you can’t fault a kid that puts the kind of energy in like she has.”
Wednesday’s match was indicative of the Bears season as a whole. When everything clicked, the Bears were unstoppable. However, there were times when Mount Airy got in a rut and struggled to get out of it.
“Sometimes our peaks are high and then sometimes are valleys are really, really low,” Morris said.
A prime example of the Lady Bears’ peak was the first set. Kills from Cooke, Williams, and Avery Cox put the Bears up 6-0. The Elks managed to build a little bit of offense, but never could overcome Mount Airy’s early lead.
Elkin managed to fight back and only trail 16-12 before Mount Airy took off once more. The Bears ended the first set on a 9-2 run and, wrapped up with back-to-back kills from Draughon, took the first set 25-14.
The Elks came into the second set more prepared. An ace from Chloe Osborne gave Elkin its first lead of the evening at 6-5. Where as the first set flew by, the second featured longer rallies thanks to strong back row play. Elkin’s Osborne and Catie Beth Brown kept the floor clean for the Elks while Meredith Cox and Brooke Lankford did so for the Bears.
Neither team held a distinct advantage in the second set. Cooke and Draughon earned the Bears their fair share of kills, but they were lost due to unforced errors.
Attacking errors by Mount Airy turned an 18-18 tie into a 22-20 lead for Elkin. A block from Cooke cut the lead to just a point, but a kill by Elkin’s Kathryn Jennings put the Elks ahead by two once more. The process repeated itself but with Draughon and Laken Edwards taking their respective teammates’ places.
Mount Airy’s Kalie Mabe came in clutch to end the second set. Mabe had a kill that cut the lead to just a point and a subsequent block to force a 24-24 tie. Another kill from Mabe gave the Bears the advantage before an Elkin net violation put Mount Airy up 2-0.
If the first set was a peak for Mount Airy, the third set was a valley. Errors by the Bears allowed Elkin to stay competitive and even take the lead late in the set.
After leading 21-18, Mount Airy gave up five-straight points in the form of two kills from Kathryn Jennings, one from Edwards, and two attack errors from the Bears. Mabe had a kill to cut it to 23-22, but another attacking error put Elkin in position to take set No. 3.
Mount Airy was given a second chance after the referee couldn’t determine if a Bear attack was tipped out or sailed out on its own. Draughon made it 24-23 with a kill, but it wasn’t enough as Elkin took the third set 25-23.
Whatever Morris said in the pep talk between the third and fourth sets worked. The Lady Bears trailed 6-5 before Mount Airy ended the set on a 20-5 run.
“For them tonight they had a realization of ‘hey, this is our last chance here to make a showing for our seniors.’ They regretted not getting that one in the third because they really wanted to get it done in three,” Morris said.
Mount Airy played its best ball of the night in the fourth set and because they held such a large lead, it allowed Morris to give the seniors the curtain call that he planned. The seniors left their home court in tears for the final time as the team went on to win the set 25-11.
The Bears wrap up the regular season tonight at Bishop McGuinness (13-10, 3-6) with conference tournament seeding still in the air. Elkin will host East Wilkes (3-15, 3-9) tonight before finishing the regular season on October 16 at Alleghany (17-3, 11-1).
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith