Polk County’s hoped-for journey to a Western Highlands Conference volleyball title took an early blow Tuesday.
Owen snapped the Wolverines’ 10-match conference winning streak, handing Polk County a 3-2 loss in the WHC opener for both schools at Polk County.
The Warhorses’ 25-16, 18-25, 25-23, 22-25, 15-13 victory proved notable for several reasons, and not just giving Owen an early boost in the conference race. It marked the first time Polk County had lost a conference match or even a set in conference play since a 3-2 loss to Hendersonville on Oct. 13, 2016.
It also marked the first conference loss for Polk to a team other than Hendersonville since the 2013 season.
“I’m disappointed,” said Polk County head coach Molly Hill. “It’s not the way we wanted to start conference.”
Trailing 2-1, Polk County took command of the fourth set midway through, then staved off a late Owen rally to force the deciding fifth set.
The teams largely traded points in the fifth until three kills and an ace from Kristen Hall helped the Wolverines pull ahead 12-9. Owen called a timeout at that point and set senior standout Chesney Gardner out of the break, with Gardner ripping a kill to make it 12-10.
A Camillia Harrin ace and a pair of Gardner kills helped the Wolverines reach match point at 14-12. Polk’s Meadow Becker and Hall blocked Owen’s Shelby Ballard to make it 14-13, but the Warhorses got the final point to close the match.
“Our heads were not in it tonight,” Hill said. “At least we’ll see them again.”
While Polk County (3-6, 0-1) may not have been at its sharpest, defense played a key role in the match for Owen (6-5, 1-0). The Warhorses were excellent on the floor, often digging shots at knee level and below to prolong rallies. Owen on several occasions saved Polk kill attempts that looked to be winners.
The Warhorses raced to a 9-3 lead in the first set and never let the edge drop below five points in claiming the set. Polk responded by grabbing a 9-5 margin in the second set, then extended the lead to 13-6 with two Hall kills and a double block of Gardner by Carolina Castillo and Mireya Roman. The Wolverines pushed the margin to 23-13 and closed the set moments later to even the match at 1-1.
Owen build a six-point lead midway through the third set, but the Wolverines fought back and eventually evened the set at 20-20. Owen inched out to a 23-22 lead, and Gardner closed the set with a kill to put the Warhorses up 2-1.
Back came Polk in the fourth set, with Roman, Hall and Grace Lauer helping fuel a run for a 13-7 advantage. Owen closed late within two points, but Polk never lost the upper hand, forcing the deciding fifth set.
Roman finished with 14 kills and five blocks, with Hall adding 13 kills and 12 digs. Lauer had 10 kills and seven digs, with Becker notching seven blocks.
Ansley Lynch had 40 digs and Sydney Waldman had 52 assists and 13 digs. Carolina Castillo added 11 digs.
Polk County returns to the court on Wednesday, traveling to West Henderson for a non-conference match before visiting Avery on Thursday for another league match.