Senior-led Warlassies fall in opening round playoff battle

Tom Flynn
Special To The Black Mountain News

Deep disappointment was evident on the faces of the Owen volleyball team after they dropped a first-round NCHSAA 2A home playoff match last Tuesday.

The visiting North Lincoln Knights defeated the Warlassies in straight sets to advance and end Owen’s season.

“We knew coming in tonight that they were equally paired with us. It was the little things that cost us – we’d get a point back then we’d give it right back to them,” said head coach Kim Clark.

Seniors Chesney Gardner (left), Shelby Ballard, and Kathryn Wilkos await a North Lincoln serve as head coach Kim Clark looks on.

The Warlassies were 13-10 coming into the match, while the Knights were 13-11. “Volleyball is so much a game of momentum and swings. So I think it was a tough one.”

Beneath the disappointment was an appreciation for how much this team, led by its five seniors, had accomplished in helping reverse the fortunes of the program. For Shelby Ballard, Chesney Gardner, Kaitlin Morris, LeeAnn Taylor, and Kathryn Wilkos, the game was their last in an Owen volleyball uniform as they are all scheduled to graduate this spring.

“I loved playing with the girls; we just get along so well,” said Ballard. “We’re definitely a family. That’s why we say ‘family’ before every game. We’ve played together so much and we’ve gotten so much better together.”

The stats bear her out. The Warlassies won a total of three games during the combined 2015 and 2016 seasons. They vaulted to eight wins in 2017 and earned a playoff spot, and this year they improved to a thirteen-win regular season and again qualified for the playoffs.

Shelby Ballard (left) and Chesney Gardner go up for a block during a first-round playoff game.

“We’ve been playing together for the past six or seven years,” said Morris. “We have a lot of faith in each other and it’s probably the reason we’re able to work together.” Morris is undecided on where she will attend college, but she does know she’ll set aside her volleyball to pursue a major in nursing.

Wilkos saw this season as the culmination of years of teamwork, aided by the addition of Clark at the helm during her junior and senior campaigns.

“We learned to play together and as we grew older our skill increased,” said Wilkos. “I think that Ms. Clark returning as our coach the past two years has helped our team.” Clark intends to return again in 2019.

“Our first set was good, but we lost a lot in the second set,” said Gardner in describing the night. “They came back on us in a way that I don’t think we were prepared for. We didn’t keep up our energy and I think that’s what hurt us in the end.”

Like her teammates, she knew that the team had formed a unique bond that helped them make a return trip to the playoffs.

“I’ve been on a losing team at the high school and I’ve been on a winning team all four of my years,” said Gardner. “I know what it feels like to lose but I also know what it feels like to win, and I think the difference is the chemistry within the team.”

In closing, the Warlassies’ head coach was optimistic about the future of Owen volleyball. The program may be seeing the trickle down benefit of success at the varsity level helping to fuel future success.

“We’re graduating five seniors and we’re going to miss them a lot. They’re an essential part of why we’re here,” said Clark. “But we’ve got some young players coming up and we have a lot of young talent; even eighth graders that are coming up. We’ve got some good talent and a lot of it there.”