The Western Hills Lady Wolverine team that graced the court on Tuesday night was one that head coach Kristi Buffenmyer hadn’t seen in six weeks.
In the last 42 days, WHHS has played with a confidence and a “tired of losing” attitude that earned the squad a 9-5 record. But on a game night against rival Franklin County for Dig Pink, the Side Out Foundation’s fundraiser for breast cancer awareness, Buffenmyer needed to see spunk.
But the last six weeks faded away and WHHS lost to the Lady Flyers 0-3 (13-25, 17-25, 12-25) at Franklin County High School gymnasium.
“I don’t know what happened,” Buffenmyer said. “It was one of those moments where something came and picked my kids off the court. Their bodies were out there, but their minds were somewhere else.”
Buffenmyer said she saw blank faces and helplessness as the Lady Wolverines could not keep the ball in play as FCHS took control 25-13 in the first game.
There were 11 ties in the second game, before Lady Flyer senior Marybeth Mucci started serving and took FCHS on a 7-0 run. Her first service error and blocks from seniors Amy Mauer and Nenna Eneje brought the Lady Wolverines within two, before FCHS took over again to win the second 25-17.
“We were scared to make a mistake,” Buffenmyer said. “We were back in that mindset. We were scared that the loss would be on one single person and not on the team.”
Before the third game, the coach had a heart-to-heart with her team.
“I told them in the locker room before the game, this will not be about skill,” she said. “County and us are matched evenly. It is about who wants the game more. For whatever reason, we did not come out ready to play. I asked the kids going into the third game, ‘This is it. I have nine other people out here, I can pick six different people. Do you want a sub? Do you want to win?’”
Buffenmyer said the team responded with “we want to win,” but in the third game WHHS could not match a 9-0 run that put the Lady Flyers ahead 18-9. Senior Carrie Arrastia hit a kill, followed by a Wolverine error and another kill from junior Ashleigh Luebbers, leading to a decisive stretch for FCHS. Head coach Wesley Vance said he was impressed with his team winning the third game 25-17.
“It was a good win and good night,” he said. “All three teams looked well. It was just a fun game. We used our senior night lineup in the third game. For some reason in the second game, they didn’t look very comfortable so I went back to the senior night lineup, since the seniors play a lot anyways.”
The two teams will meet again in the first round of the district tournament next week at Franklin County. It wasn’t the kind of preview Buffenmyer hoped to see before the biggest game of the Wolverines’ season.
“Hopefully that won’t happen again next week, because that will end their season,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to see this again after the past six weeks. But I did. But maybe it is out of us. Maybe that needed to happen. I’ll find out.”
WHHS (14-17, 0-4) plays at Anderson County on Thursday, while FCHS (18-14, 2-2) plays at Henry County at 7:30 tonight.
FRIENDLY RIVALS DIG PINK
Both Franklin County and Western Hills passed on their traditional school colors and spirit to support a much bigger cause while wearing pink.
October is breast cancer awareness month and an opportunity for the two rivals to host a ‘Dig Pink’ event night, which featured a silent auction, door prizes and donations as a fundraiser. This is the fifth year that FCHS and WHHS have held the Side Out Foundation’s Dig Pink event.
Buffenmyer said they’ve been averaging between $6,000-$10,000 donated to the cause on the game day each year.
“Volleyball itself has decided to do this for breast cancer awareness during this October month,” she said. “Franklin County and Western Hills got together to do this because within the county and city, we knew that we could raise a lot of money playing each other, that’s why we came together and gave up a district game. This is still a district game and it is a big deal for us as coaches to do this.”
Vance said he was quite pleased with the turnout at Franklin County as the stands were packed with fans, referees and students wearing the color pink.
“It is such a great cause and a good time,” he said. “We are rivals, but also good friends as you can tell.”