Polk County’s young group of volleyballers will learn from nights like Monday, from times like the past eight days. They will grow, develop, improve and, in all likelihood, thrive.
Nights such as Monday will undoubtedly lead to better moments in the future.
Though holding that hope makes those evenings no easier to bear in the present.
The Wolverines endured Monday a third straight five-set defeat, watching a 2-0 lead over Hendersonville go awry in a 25-27, 22-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-9 setback in a home Mountain Foothills 7 Conference match.
The loss is the fifth straight for the Wolverines (6-11, 3-5), each in the past eight days. It has been a challenging stretch, with those five matches against teams with a combined 55-19 record.
Yet save for a 3-0 loss last week at Hendersonville (8-5, 6-3), the Wolverines were positioned to win each, especially the past three matches that stretched to the maximum five sets. Polk had a 2-1 lead at Patton, the same at R-S Central and owned Monday’s two-set advantage before seeing each match slip away.
A lineup dominated by freshmen and sophomores growing in experience may well be playing a key role.
“Youth is part of it,” said Polk County head coach Molly Hill. “So is confidence and communication with each other. All of this are things we can control and we can change. We just have to have the right mindset to do that.
“We have to finish the battle. We start the battle and do well, and then things happen and we start looking around and worrying. We make it so much harder on ourselves and so much harder to turn it around and fight back.”
Polk County closed the first set Monday with kills by Sophia Overholt and Mia Bradley, then stormed back from a 21-15 deficit in the second set, scoring nine straight points. Overholt had three kills and Amberlyn Scruggs had an ace during the run. Hendersonville fought off two set points, but Elysia Smith closed the set with a kill and a 2-0 Wolverine advantage.
Polk raced to a 5-0 edge to open the third set, but Hendersonville rallied and the set stayed close throughout. The Bearcats inched ahead 22-19, but the Wolverines answered with four straight points and took a 23-22 lead on an Overholt ace.
The set stood tied at 24-24 when the Bearcats got the final two points to win it, closing on a Lola Sultenfuss kill.
Sultenfuss, SJ Shaffer and Gracie Bayne hurt the Wolverines throughout the evening with strong attacks, especially Sultenfuss connecting from the outside, and the trio began to swing successfully more often in the fourth set. The teams were tied at 17 before the Bearcats closed with an 8-3 run to take the set and even the match.
Bolstered by the rally, Hendersonville jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the final set and never led by less than three, steadily building the advantage before claiming the match.
Not aiding the Wolverines’ cause in the final three sets was the loss of sophomore setter Zaelea Eller to an injury.
“Zaelea got hurt and that threw things off a bit,” Hill said. “That was one more thing we had to adjust to.”
Overholt finished with 12 kills and 16 digs, with Morgan Yoder recording seven kills and four blocks. Kinsley Huskey and Mia Bradley each had five kills, with Bradley also recording 12 digs and six assists.
Scruggs had 22 assists and 10 digs, with Ella Waldman recording 26 digs and Elena Carroll adding 12 digs.
Polk County returns to action on Wednesday as R-S Central visits for another conference clash. Junior varsity action begins at 5 p.m., with the varsity following around 6:30 p.m. Both matches will be shown live on NFHS Network.