The 2023 volleyball playoffs followed stellar season performances by Franklin High School’s (FHS) Lady Panther volleyballers. Both varsity and junior varsity (JV) squads finished recently as regular season champions.
In the Mountain Seven Conference (M7C) tournament, the JV girls defeated Pisgah, 2-0 while the varsity squad lost their championship game to North Henderson, 3-1. The FHS JV girls accomplished a 22-1 (11-1) record this year, with a 17-game unbeaten string intact at season’s end. The varsity women fared similarly, finishing the regular season and conference tournament at 22-2 (11-1), with a 12-game winning streak of their own along the way.
JV Coach Cindy Christie shared some thoughts on the season: “I’m impressed with the leadership and poise demonstrated by freshman setter Shelby Adams. She is willing to work on and learn anything new thrown at her.”
Regarding some other standout players, Christie was no less appreciative. “Sophomore Captain Meliah Mason did a great job keeping the team spirits high and staying positive. Sophomore Carrie Holland…Wow! She really busted out of her shell and played her best volleyball when we needed her most.”
Another player on the team this year with quiet leadership qualities was Sara Crupi, also a sophomore. “She was always there for her teammates, no matter the situation. They knew then could come to her for help and guidance – that type of off-the-court leadership is hard to find and she excels at it,” said Christie.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, the varsity Panthers hosted East Rowan in the first round of volleyball playoffs, with FHS prevailing 3-0 and moving on to the second round Tuesday, Oct. 24 where they played the North Carolina 13th-ranked Hickory Red Tornadoes. Unfortunately, that is where this year’s journey ended for FHS. They lost in three sets to Hickory and their season is now over.
Regarding the arduousness of the sport, Varsity Coach Bekah Brooks commented: “There are always three seasons in volleyball: regular season, [conference] tournament, and playoff season. Each one takes a different type of preparation, with all the same hopes and dreams of competing and being a winner, on and off the court! Regular season starts in June and carries through the summer. There are five games before school starts; most weeks there are three games! For tournament season, it’s a lot more practice and facing teams you have already played two times who know how you work and are trying to beat you. Then, playoff season is about waiting and preparing for someone new.”
Brooks has coached for many years and has learned that the playoffs differ from the regular season. She said, “Knowing it’s a ‘give it your all or you are done’ and ‘win, you move forward – lose you are out!’ – mentality that requires toughness.”
In addition to all the team accomplishments, senior McCall Sanders became only the second player since 2011 with 1,000 sets. For the uninformed, a “set” in volleyball is much like an assist in basketball – it is the last touch before someone else scores a point by hitting the ball over the net successfully. Sanders informed that she began playing volleyball in sixth grade. Additionally, her sister, junior McKayla was also on the team.
Sanders said, “Playing with my sister made things easier because, as a team, we knew we could count on her to dig up any ball, no matter where it was. This year was hard, though, because I know it as my last year getting to play alongside her.”
In terms of memories, Sanders believes that while certain games stand out in her mind, it is the little things about playing volleyball she will remember most vividly. “Bus rides, pre-game music in the locker room, team bonding days, and all the friendships I’ve made these past couple seasons – I will never forget those things,” she reminisced.
Sanders does not intend to continue volleyball in college but instead plans to attend Western Carolina University and pursue a degree in education.As Coach Brooks, Sanders, and the entire team embarked on this year’s playoff journey, they noted it was a culmination of