Maybe, just maybe, Saturday afternoon brought the first sign that 2021 is eventually going to offer a return to normalcy.
Not the fact that Polk County played a volleyball match on the day after New Year’s; that remains a scheduling quirk borne of 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic.
The broader picture around the Wolverines’ 3-0 defeat of Owen, though, had the familiar feel of seasons past. Six of them, to be exact, each ended with a Western Highlands Conference championship.
That streak is now seven, Polk’s 25-21, 25-23, 25-16 victory securing yet another WHC crown. It’s not quite the consistency of death and taxes, but it’s pretty darn close.
“That’s a goal of mine coming into every season,” said Polk County head coach Molly Hill, whose tenure matches that seven-year run. “For each group of girls, I want the same thing. I want it for me, for the team, for the program.
“We talk about it before every season begins. We’re so excited about this and hopefully we can take this momentum and excitement into the playoffs.”
The win capped a 24 hours typical of the past 10 months. Polk officials learned Friday afternoon that conference foes Mitchell and Mountain Heritage – both on the Wolverines’ schedule next week – were entering quarantine. With the regular season to run no later than Jan. 8, that meant the cancellation of both matches and some quick rescheduling of Senior Day festivities.
Those all fell into place, with the eight Polk seniors honored before the match. The Wolverines then fought through a nail-biting three sets where Owen (5-5, 5-3) nearly played the rude party guest.
The Warhorses raced to a 6-1 lead to open the match, strong blocking blunting Polk’s offense. The Wolverines, though, responded with six straight points to take a 7-6 lead before the teams settled into a back-and-forth battle. Neither team would lead by more than two points until Polk closed the set on a Marissa Twitty kill and a Kristen Hall ace.
Owen, again, held command early in the second set, building a 10-5 advantage. The Wolverines steadily fought back, finally evening the match at 14-14. The score remained deadlocked at 22-22 before Polk inched ahead, 24-23, then closed that set on an emphatic kill by Marilyn Castillo.
Perhaps the drama of the first two sets sapped Owen; Polk County scored the first five points of the third set en route to a 14-4 advantage. A Hall kill gave Polk a 24-15 lead and match point. Twitty ended it moments later with a huge kill from the middle.
Every Wolverine on the floor at the time? A senior.
“I let the seniors run the show,” Hill said. “That’s what they wanted.”
With realignment pending, it may well have been Polk County’s farewell to the WHC. If so, the Wolverines walk away with a 27-game winning streak in conference play. The senior trio of Hall, Twitty and Castillo, each four-year varsity players, finished 37-1 in WHC matches, part of the 74-18 record they’ve compiled in their seasons to date.
A non-conference matchup with R-S Central on Friday still remains on Polk’s schedule. Pairings for the state 1A playoffs will be announced the following day, Jan. 9, with the postseason slated to begin on Jan. 12 in this most unusual of times.
“This year has not been conventional at all,” Hill said. “To go out on such a sweet note is so good for our seniors.
“I’m excited to see what they can do and the energy they can bring to the playoffs.”