WICHITA, Kan.—Defending a league title is never easy. It is especially difficult when you lose nine seniors out of the 12 people on your league championship roster. And while the season is still in its infancy, Wichita Northwest passed a gigantic test, outlasting Wichita Heights in a five-game match 14-25, 25-20, 25-21, 21-25, 15-12.
“Even though it’s significantly more time for most of them on the varsity court than they have had, they are just rising,” said Northwest head coach Tracy Doile-McHatton who is in her first year with the Lady Grizzlies. “They are athletic enough, they are skilled enough. They are doing everything I am asking of them.”
With such a young team, it has to be encouraging for the Lady Grizzlies to face some adversity against Heights, and come through the other end with a victory.
Behind a strong serve and some hardwood splintering kills from Crystal Whitten, Heights dominated the first game 25-14, and appeared to be too much for the Lady Grizzlies to handle. In the second game, Laura Broadfoot served a big run for Heights to start with a big lead over Northwest.
“I think that when we started out, we knew that it was going to be tough and we had a lot of nerves building up inside of us,” said Northwest’s Darby Mussulman. “But I think as soon as we saw what was coming towards us, we knew how to shut it down and I think that is what we did.”
After spotting the Lady Falcons a bunch of points in the second game, Northwest showed some signs of life and stormed back from nearly certain doom to control the game and even the match with a 25-20 win.
The momentum kept going in the third game, with both teams going back and forth. But after it looked like Northwest was going to get blown out of its own gym early in the second game, the Lady Grizzlies seized the later portion of the third game, winning 25-21 and took a 2-1 lead in the match.
With the momentum, and a game away from a huge early league win, Northwest wanted it to end in the fourth game. But Heights wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
Whitten got back to pounding the ball and Heights took the air out of Northwest’s sails with a 25-21 win.
In danger of losing a heart breaking match by blowing a 2-1 lead, the Lady Grizzlies took the court for the final game, showing the same resolve they did in the second game.
“We all wanted it,” said Mussulman. “And I think that we knew that if we played like we did in the second and third games that we would take it all. We put all we had out on the floor and I think we just showed them who really wanted it more.”
Mussulman dominated at the net, scoring some big kills and on defense making it nearly impossible for Heights to get the ball through her block.
And while Heights did its best to make a game out of it, Northwest had built too big a lead and took the match with a 15-12 win in the fifth game.
“I think that we are going to have a great season,” said Mussulman. “And I think we have a really good chance at City.”
“They love volleyball,” said Doile-McHatton. “Volleyball is fun, it’s what it should be, and it’s even more fun when you win. And they did what it took to win, even though it took five sets.”