By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain took Mountain Six Conference volleyball co-champion Franklin to five sets Dec. 22 before the Lady Panthers emerged with a 22-25, 25-12, 25-22, 20-25, 15-8 win at the SM gym.
It was the final match of the year for the Lady Mustangs (3-8, 3-7), who finished fifth in the MSC.
A match with Mitchell, which was slated for Dec. 29, was canceled.
“We battled pretty hard until the end,” Coach Megan Dezarn said. “In the last set we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be offensively and gave them opportunities. We had too many tips and free balls that we couldn’t put away, and that gave them a chance to be aggressive on the offensive end and it got away from us.”
SM failed to score an offensive point in the fifth set. The Lady Panthers took control with four straight points to lead 11-5.
Macy Wike’s three points, including two aces, and Melanie Hoyle’s block gave the Lady Mustangs a 13-10 lead in the first set. Franklin scored five straight points to go up 17-16. SM regained the lead and clinched the set on Kennedy Stewman’s serve.
The Lady Panthers took control of the second set early. A 7-0 run made it 20-8, and they cruised from there.
The third set was close all the way. Alexa Anderson served three points, including two aces, giving the Lady Mustangs a 9-8 edge. Franklin took the lead for good at 20-19 and went on to win.
Anderson served three points and Carley Raleigh had a kill as SM went up 4-1 in the fourth set. Three consecutive aces by Raleigh extended the margin to 9-3. The lead reached 15-6 as Natalie Parris served four points, including an ace, and Hoyle had two kills. The Lady Panthers reeled off nine unanswered points for a 15-15 tie but never took the lead. Raleigh served the final three points, including an ace, and Parris ended the set with a kill.
Raleigh put down 18 kills to go with 21 assists. Hoyle and Ella Gamble both had 10 kills, and Gamble handed out 22 assists. Stewman and Wike came up with 17 and 13 digs, respectively.
Anderson led in service points with eight. Wike and Raleigh were both perfect in 15 serves, and Parris didn’t miss in 12. Team serving was 85.9 percent.
“This has been a very different type of season with COVID, but I thought this group did an outstanding job handling all the added stress and pressure,” Dezarn said. “They are a terrific group as far as leadership goes. They kept their composure throughout the season. I don’t think the record showed how good a team they were. They worked really hard up until the end.”
The Lady Mustang JVs ended the year 4-6 with a 25-19, 25-17 loss.
“We played a very strong Franklin team close in both sets,” Coach Melissa Hill said. “We stayed with them then whole way. We had leads at different times but just could not keep control when it came down to the end.”
As for the season, she said. “I commend the JV team on their growth this season. Although we only had 10 games, the amount of skill improvement and confidence that the girls gained was incredible.”