Get a banner ready. The WCMS Lady Pioneers have earned the right to call themselves champions, even if they’re going to have to share the title.
Warren County forged its way into a three-way tie for first place in the Central Tennessee Conference Thursday in memorable fashion, taking down Tullahoma in a three-set thriller. The Lady Pioneers won 25-15, 10-25 and 15-13, running their win streak to six games to complete a remarkable turnaround.
Coach Holly Palombo assured her team at midseason it could be a champion if it found a way to limit mistakes and compete on every play. It didn’t seem like the Lady Pioneers, then 2-4 and already with losses to Coffee County and Tullahoma, were ready to take that step.
By Thursday night, they were embracing each other with screams and hugs as they took down Tullahoma in a pivotal match that left both squads – along with Coffee County – atop the standings.
“We had to rally back from behind in the third set, but our girls never quit. The emotions were evident on their faces and they wanted the win on eighth grade night. The final two points were full of emotion and effort from both teams,” said coach Palombo.
After splitting the first two sets, the Lady Wildcats and Lady Pioneers found themselves in a 13-13 tie in a race to 15 in the final set. The last two points, both won by the home team, were a thing of beauty.
Ali Young, one of four eighth graders honored before the match, was at the service line and hit a rocket. Tullahoma’s libero was forced to make a diving pass, one right back to Warren County's side at the perfect height. Sarah Kate Winfree, a monster in the middle for the Lady Pioneers, tipped it back as the Lady Pioneers got one point away from the win.
Young hit another pretty serve on the final point, but Tullahoma was able to gather and set up its attack. On a huge hit, Alyssa Boyd made a diving dig to keep the rally alive for Warren County. Young made a second diving hit on the play, simultaneously keeping the ball up and putting it on a pedestal for Presley Winfree to attack.
Presley’s hard spike had Tullahoma scrambling, ultimately setting up a quick back-and-forth that ended with the Lady Wildcats letting the ball and sending the Lady Pioneers into a frenzy.
It was a resilant win for the Lady Pioneers, who had to rally at one point without one of their leaders. Eighth grader Aubrey Oleksik, who had a string of key serves in a dominant first set, went down late in the second set.
Ella Wells, a sixth grader, was amazing in relief and helped hold the fort before Oleksik returned in the final points.
“We had been practicing for something like this and Ella was prepared to go in and pick up where Aubrey left off. She finished the second game out and got her first varsity dig,” said Palombo.
Young finished her final home match at WCMS with four aces and four assists. Oleksik added three aces in a gritty performance. Boyd and Jenna Mullins, who were also honored before the match, had key plays as well with the win.
Warren County will now turn its focus on the CTC tournament, which is slated to start Monday at Franklin North. At press time, tiebreaking scenarios weren’t resolved to leave the Lady Pioneers with a seed for the tourney. If the Lady Pioneers are the No. 3 seed, they will play Shelbyville Monday at 6:15 p.m. A top-two seed would earn Warren County a bye into Tuesday’s games.