A little over two hours into the most important day of their volleyball lives the Louisburg Wildcat Volleyball team knew their dream season was all but over.
In a cruel seeding draw, the Wildcats found themselves paired with not one, but two defending state champions, and not just any state champions, no, the Wildcats were up against the St. James Academy Thunder and the Topeka Hayden Wildcats. Those two teams represented the last three state champions, two straight from St. James and the one before that from Hayden, which, not coincidentally featured the Thunder as runner up.
Heck, all the Thunder did prior to playing in this years Class 4A State tournament was go 39-1. The eventual 5A state champion Bishop Miege Stags were the only team to defeat the Thunder this year, and, in the Thunder's 39 match wins this season, they lost a grand total of FOUR games, four, that's it!
So, after playing Hayden tough in their first game, eventually falling by a score of 25-20, the Wildcats felt the wrath of Hayden and St. James. Louisburg dropped their second game against Hayden in a game which they really weren't competitive. Then they got steam rolled by the Thunder in the first game of their match, and despite the fact the Wildcats opened a 3-0 lead in the second game of the match against the Thunder, it was little more than a stay of execution, as the Thunder rolled off 10 straight points and went on to a 25-10 victory.
That's when the Wildcats fortunes in the state tournament changed. Lesser team would have mailed in their third and final match of the pool play, taken a beating and gone home, feeling good about just making it to the state tournament. Especially a team that had not been to such a lofty position in nearly 20 years. But not the Wildcats, not this bunch of kids who found it not good enough to just get to the dance, they wanted to at least make it to the floor.
"We knew we had to keep our heads in it, we had to focus and come together as a team," said Marisa Mackey, and led by Mackey and the Wildcat seniors, that's exactly what they did. The Wildcats came back even after waiting over three hours to finally hit the court again, and defeated the fourth seeded Labette County Grizzlies in straight sets to take the match victory. The Wildcats jumped to leads in both games, watched as the Grizzlies fought their way back into each game, and then finished off the Grizzlies each time.
And that's been a problem for the Wildcats this year. Several times through the course of the season, the Wildcats watched as late game lead evaporated, but not on this day. No, on this day, the Wildcats held on, and won what might have been the most important match in recent memory for the Wildcats.
From that point on, the Wildcat faithful were all smiles, even Mackey, who was battling a pounding headache, managed to smile through the pain. Everyone realized what an important win it was. For the seniors, it was the opportunity to win the final match of their career. For the underclassmen it was the opportunity to get not only a taste of playing in a state tournament, but they now knew what winning in the state tournament felt like, and for the family, friends, and fans of the Wildcats it was the chance to celebrate a winning end to a magical season.
Everyone won on Friday at Salina, and the Wildcats did something to make their community proud. The went to Salina, performed with grit and determination, taking on the best teams in the state and handling everything that was dealt them. The Wildcats performed like champions and the entire Louisburg community is better for their efforts.