A roar came from the stands, celebratory screams could be heard everywhere and tears of joy were shed when the Warren County High School volleyball team won Thursday night at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Beating the Cookeville Lady Cavaliers in the regular season may not have meant much to a bystander, but for anybody involved with the Lady Pioneer volleyball program, it was a win 26 years in the making.
Warren County rallied from down two sets to beat the Lady Cavaliers, giving the Lady Pioneers their first victory over Cookeville in the 26-year history of the volleyball program.
Coach Franklin Fisher has been the leader of the program for the past 18 years and has been trying to build his program to contend for titles.
Cookeville has been the thorn in the side of Warren County the previous three years as the Lady Pioneers have finished second in District 6-AAA to the Lady Cavaliers, but the win Thursday night ties the Lady Pioneers atop the district standings with one more match to go.
While forging its way into first place was an added bonus of Warren County’s win Thursday, coach Fisher knows the victory carried much more importance to the players who have worked toward beating Cookeville.
“This team reached a goal that every player in the history of the program has contributed to achieving,” said Fisher. “The foundation was put in place many years ago and has been built on year after year. I’m so proud of them.”
Winning was award enough for the Lady Pioneers, but making a big comeback made the victory extra sweet.
Warren County reversed the result from the first match against Cookeville Sept. 6, when the Lady Pioneers won the first two sets but saw the Lady Cavaliers take the final three.
The heart-breaking loss was still fresh in the minds of six seniors, who have set a school record for wins in their careers.
The one victory that eluded the class was beating the Lady Cavaliers, but Caroline McKinley, Megan Dishman, Blair Fisher, Kaitlin Lawrence, Emily Newman and Karaline Deaton played huge parts in making their 112th win the most memorable of their careers.
Things couldn’t have started any worse for the home team in the anticipated match between the bitter rivals. Cookeville won with ease the first two sets, beating the Lady Pioneers 25-13 each time.
Coach Fisher took multiple time-outs in the first two sets to try to calm down his team as the Lady Pioneers seemed too eager to erase 26 years of losing with one amazing play.
After falling into an all-too-familiar 0-2 hole against Cookeville, Warren County decided it wasn’t going to accept losing once again and McKinley changed the tone on the first play of the third set.
Cookeville kept trying to hammer away at Warren County with hard kills, which worked for two sets. When the same game plan started the third set, McKinley was ready.
Cookeville got a great opportunity to start the third set with a kill, but McKinley stuffed the attempt back in the face of the Lady Cavalier player to put Warren County ahead 1-0.
McKinley would add a hard spike moments later as the Lady Pioneers led 3-0 early. McKinley had three blocks and three kills by the time Cookeville pulled within one at 8-7, but Dishman stepped up to support her teammate.
Dishman dinked two shots over the block for points as Warren County surged ahead 14-11, prompting Cookeville’s coach to tell her team the senior middle hitter for the Lady Pioneers “won’t hit the ball hard.”
Dishman took exception to the comment as she slammed her next shot through the heart of the Cookeville defense to make it 19-11.
Lawrence made two big plays down the stretch as Warren County pulled away for a win in the third set. Leading 22-14, Lawrence got a kill while falling backward, then she tipped a shot at the net straight down as the Lady Pioneers began to gain confidence with the 25-14 set victory.
Junior Kelsey Lawrence started the fourth set with a bang as she blasted the ball past the Cookeville block for a 1-0 lead. Kills by Kelsey and Dishman gave Warren County a 11-7 lead midway through the set, but the Lady Cavaliers began to claw back.
Clinging to a slim 17-16 lead, Deaton came up with a huge play to keep Warren County ahead. A Lady Cavalier looked like she had a big kill to tie the game with the ball went past Dishman at the net, but Deaton made a diving dig that landed on Cookeville’s side as Warren County earned the point.
The Lady Cavaliers wouldn’t go away though and momentarily held the lead at 23-22, but McKinley came up with a kill and a block to swing the score in favor of Warren County 24-23.
Cookeville took a time-out hoping to ice Newman before the big serve, but the pressure didn’t get to the senior. Newman drilled the ball and the serve was too hot to handle as Cookeville was called for a lift as Warren County sent the game to a final set with a 25-23 victory.
The deciding fifth set was all Warren County as the Lady Pioneers never trailed. Dishman started the set with a block, then Newman ultimately took over with her serving.
After Kaitlin came up with a rare assist to McKinley to put Warren County ahead 4-3, Newman served six straight points to give the Lady Pioneers an insurmountable lead.
Newman had four aces during the six-point stretch, one that was preserved by an amazing play by Fisher.
Cookeville thought it had snapped Newman’s rally after a time-out when a spike looked destined to find the court on Warren County’s side. Fisher made a miraculous play however, as she dove and knocked the ball back to the Lady Cavaliers. In a rush, the Lady Cavaliers tried another quick spike but McKinley blocked the attempt and gave Warren County an 8-3 lead.
Cookeville got within three at 10-7 following an ace, but McKinley stopped a rally with a touch shot around three defenders to bring Warren County within four points of winning.
By the time Warren County led 14-8, Newman was back serving for match point and the Lady Pioneer fans were on their feet.
After Dishman foiled a spike attempt at the net by Cookeville, the ball was dumped over to the Lady Cavaliers and a wild scramble ensued. During their attempt to play the ball over, a Lady Cavalier player hit the ball into the net where it struck the antenna which rules the ball out.
The line judge whistled the violation as the ball came back over the net to Warren County and the Lady Pioneers momentarily froze. When the realization set in the ball was called out of bounds on the Lady Cavaliers and the scoreboard showed 15-8, the celebration began.
The Lady Pioneers shared hugs and tears as coach Fisher tried to gather the words to express the joy of ending the long losing streak. The message was clear as coach Fisher spoke about the heart of his team.
“Heart - that’s what was exhibited by our team,” said Fisher. “They decided they would not go away quietly to another expected loss to Cookeville.”
With the victory, the Lady Pioneers improved to 32-8 this season and pulled within two wins of the single-season school record. Warren County could set the record Tuesday with a win in Cumberland County, which would also give the Lady Pioneers a share of the District 6-AAA championship, one of two goals the team set for itself before the season.
The other was beat Cookeville. One goal is down, only one more to go.