CLINTON — The Walnut Lady Wildcats, the 2A north champion, reached the pinnacle of high school volleyball in only their third year as a program.
The team held off 2A south champion Puckett 3-2 to capture the state 2A championship on Saturday at Clinton High School.
“We honestly didn’t expect to win the title when the season began,” said head coach Kelley Hopper. “We played the entire year without an injured starter (Madi Kate Vuncannon) and had several other players face various injuries throughout the season. So to win the championship after all we’ve been through this year is very surreal.”
Not only did Walnut win the state title, they did it after playing all their playoff matches on the road.
“One of the main things I love about our girls is their fight and passion,” said Hopper. “We adopted that theme of ‘fight through everything no matter what’ early in the season and that’s exactly what they did. They never gave up.”
Heading into the state title match the Lady ‘Cats had just come off a 3-2 win at Mantachie, where they rallied from a 2-1 deficit.
Playing a full five sets, like they did in the championship game, was nothing new to Walnut.
“That’s something we did a lot this year (five-set matches), so it didn’t surprise me when the girls walked out on that court looking just as calm and serene as if it were just another game to them. In fact I asked a couple of them about it and they said it was like just another match,” Hopper added.
Puckett took the first set 25-21 before Walnut bounced back to take sets two and three (25-20 and 25-14) for a 2-1 lead. However, the Lady Wolves responded with a 25-21 win in the fourth set to force a fifth set tiebreaker.
The Lady Wildcats broke it open early 5-0 in the tiebreaker and cruised to the win.
“Puckett was really good,” said Hopper. “They had two really solid outside hitters so I knew if we could neutralize them we had a good chance to win.”
Madison Porterfield led Walnut with seven aces while senior Claire Leak came up big at the net with a team-leading 14 kills. Laura Leigh Hughes added 11 kills and four blocks while Delaney LeFoy had six kills in the title match.
The Lady ‘Cats finish the season 13-7 while the Lady Wolves end the campaign at 16-3.
Brian Quinn served his second season as assistant to Hopper. Walnut loses three seniors (Leak, Larissa Pitney and Sarah Martindale), but will return a solid nucleus of players from the championship squad.
Walnut 3, Puckett 2
Records: Walnut 13-7 (2A state champions), Puckett 16-3 2A runner-up