Adversity couldn’t derail Providence High’s volleyball aspirations.
The Panthers overcame a rough start against Watauga in the fourth round of the North Carolina 4A playoffs Thursday to rebound for a 3-1 win on their home floor. After Watauga (17-9) opened with a 25-19 win in the opening set, Providence (24-2) pulled itself together to earn a season sweep.
“It is really exciting, especially since we worked so hard for it,” said Panthers outside hitter Hannah Wheeler, who racked up 15 kills. “It’s been our goal since the beginning of the season to make it to the states, so we’re getting another step up and inching toward that goal we set at the very beginning.”
Providence started its rally with a 25-21 win in the second set and a 25-21 win in the third, both times building leads as large as nine points only to have the Pioneers close late. But when the Panthers needed to close, they found ways to finish, especially by going to Wheeler and junior middle hitter Kendall Bender, who also tallied 15 kills.
“I was just getting really excited from the hypeness of the game,” Wheeler said. “I guess it was working for me and the team’s energy. We were all together and playing as a team. My team was getting better passes and I was getting better sets, so it was all working out for me in the end.”
Watauga’s early initiative challenged Providence’s back line, and outside hitter Brynne Gould was especially effective at converting kill opportunities. But the Panthers answered with setter Becky Porter, who passed for 37 assists and 11 digs to spark the Panthers’ offensive turnaround. Outside hitter Amy DeJuneas and libero Madelyn Craig added 13 and 12 digs, respectively.
“I thought the biggest thing was to figure out what shots they were hitting,” Panthers coach Stephanie Harpenau said. “We were talking about being focused on that and having awareness of what’s going on the court.”
Watauga jumped on Providence to open the match by scoring eight of the first 15 points before Providence rallied to an 18-17 advantage. The Pioneers responded by going on a 7-1 run to close the set, capped by Gould’s kill for the final point.
“Providence is a really good team and we played them a couple of weeks ago, so we knew what to expect,” Watauga coach Kris Hagaman said. “Our girls worked really hard and played well. We came out on the losing end today, but I thought we gave them a good match.”
Said Harpenau: “We played them earlier this season and we went five, so we knew they were a tough team. They’re really scrappy, they don’t give up on the balls and we saw that in the third set when they made a huge comeback.”