Wirt: State Champs
CHARLESTON – A simple bump set from Liz Adams and Brandy Bunch’s 24th kill of the match ignited a frenzied celebration here Saturday afternoon inside the Charleston Civic Center as Wirt County rallied from an 11-9 fifth-set deficit to upend Tyler Consolidated for the Class A state volleyball championship.
Tyler Consolidated, last year’s state runner-up, grabbed the early momentum by winning the opening set 25-20 before watching the Tigers claw back with set wins of 25-21 and 25-15. In the must-win fourth set for the Silver Knights, head coach Richard Summers’ squad quickly turned around an 8-3 deficit by scoring 13 of the next 14 points and then held on for a 25-19 triumph to force the decisive finale.
Things started to look bleak for the Tigers (37-13-4) after Sydney Reed registered her ninth and final kill to get the Silver Knights within five points of the school’s second state championship. Following a service point from Kerstyn Cline, the Tigers trailed 11-9 in the final set, but got the point back immediately when Cline’s next serve hit the net for a service error.
Wirt County then squared it at 11 on Megan Burns’ 22nd kill and took the lead for good when Reed made a hustling play and sent what would’ve been a free ball to the Tigers’ side of the floor. However, the Tigers didn’t have to worry about setting up for an attack since Reed’s effort went for naught when it was ruled the ball was out of play for going outside the antenna.
TCHS (36-14) had a prime opportunity to even things at 12 after the Tigers sent a free ball over, but the Silver Knights’ next attack was long and gave Wirt County libero Leah Haines her third straight service tally. Even though Wirt County was called for an infraction on the next point, which made it 13-12, Tyler Consolidated couldn’t return its next volley and coach Summers called timeout before Wirt County got its first attempt at match point.
Despite Bunch getting double blocked on the ensuing spike, the senior put her next attempt to the floor, which handed match point to teammate Gwynn Smith.
“Crazy,” was the axiom used by Wirt County head coach Janet Frazier to describe her ninth state championship victory. “There was some good volleys. We had lead changes. That match had it all. I just told them to keep playing like you play.”
The Silver Knights used a Bridget Matthews kill along with a double block alongside Reed to secure the final two points of the opening-set triumph.
A Miriam Smith downed spike from one of Adams’ match-high 53 assists allowed the Tigers to close out set two and make it a best-of-three affair.
Thanks to an Ariel Fish tip that went for a kill, the Silver Knights only trailed 4-3 early in set three, but the Tigers went on the offensive behind the hitting of Bunch, Smith, Burns and Allie Bailey to cruise to the 25-15 win.
Following a pair of Bunch kill-blocks, the Tigers looked poised to win the title in four sets after jumping out to an 8-3 cushion. That didn’t turn out to be the case, though, as consecutive Megan Carpenter (18 kills) downed spikes led to five straight service tallies for Hilary Casteel as coach Summers’ squad went on a 13-1 run to take control and force a decisive fifth set.
“Incredible. It’s unbelievable,” said Bunch, who joined Bailey in posting 14 blocks apiece. “I’m glad that my team put all the work into it this year as much as they did because every single one of them put as much effort as they could into it.
“It’s been a great four years. We were ready to meet up with them again and show them that we worked on what we needed to work on.”
Tyler Consolidated, which won its lone state crown as a double-A program back in 2007, had defeated the Tigers twice this season. The most recent came during the Little Kanawha Conference semifinals when the Silver Knights rallied from a 12-7 deficit in the fifth set.
“That’s the best volleyball match I’ve ever been apart of,” said Summers, who got a combined 28 digs from Carly Fletcher and Madison West along with 15 kills from Matthews. “It’s going to take some time to get over that. State runner-up is not something to be ashamed about. It was just so close, that’s all. You know, you want it for your seniors.”
The championship was Wirt County’s seventh in Class A. The Tigers won a pair of crowns in the then-combined Class AA/A division before the state tournament was divided into three classifications in 2002.
“I expected us to be better sooner than we were this year,” said Frazier, who watched senior Mady Campbell finish her final match with four points, an ace, three assists and 16 digs.
“It just really never developed until here. As it got closer to the end (of the season), they started to work individually on their skills and came together as a team.”
Adams, Smith, Bunch, Cline, Matthews and Carpenter were joined on the all-tournament team by Magnolia’s Mallory Chapman, Greater Beckley Christian’s Janalee Lehman and East Hardy’s Marilyn Cassell.