MUNCIE, Ind. — After multiple unsuccessful attempts to get the speaker system working inside the gym at Muncie Central High School, athletic director Tom Lyon was looking for a Plan B.
It was senior night for the Bearcats’ players and their parents were waiting outside for their pre-match introductions. Lyon walked out of the gym and returned with an older-looking megaphone. He later said, jokingly, “it’s not often you have to pull out the megaphone.”
Welcome to high school sports in 2020, where not even the speakers work as planned.
►ECI football:Muncie Central’s Max Pittman wins Player of the Week
But as weird as this year has been for Muncie Central, Thursday night was special for its six seniors. The Bearcats, who prior to this week played just two matches all season after an assistant coach tested positive for COVID-19, were gearing up for their third match in four days against Daleville. Muncie Central would go on to win its first match of the year in a sweep (25-20, 25-17, 25-19) and have each one of its senior players receive an ovation late in the third set.
“I think it was a big deal for me because I didn’t think we were going to have (a senior night),” said senior Lexi Franks, who led the Bearcats with 11 kills and eight blocks. “I know the people in the spring didn’t get to have one, so I was really thankful we were able to push it up and play in front of our family and friends and experience what Central’s about. And I thought we played pretty well tonight and I think this is our first win and we’re going to keep the train going.”
Franks, who leads Central with 59 kills this season, was honored pre-game along with fellow players Kallista Twilley, Taylor Austin and Brooklyn Emberton and managers Aaliyah Davis and Andrea Fisher.
For Central head coach Kate Hughes, a win against a talented Daleville team was satisfying, but being able to honor her seniors before and during the match meant so much more.
“It’s so important to have as many of the traditions that they are used to that we can to have a senior night is so huge for them, they deserve it,” Hughes said. “… It’s nice just to be able to recognize them, to recognize all the work that they have put in and I think that’s why it’s so important, not only for us but for every team to be able to recognize those kids who’ve gone through their program and have worked really, really hard to get to where they are.”
This year, getting to senior night took a little bit of extra work for the Bearcats. After its Aug. 25 match against Madison-Grant, Muncie Central (1-4) had to wait nearly three weeks before playing in its next match against Richmond Monday. The Bearcats lost the heart-breaking five-setter to their conference rival (25-17, 21-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-13).
But trying to get back into regular season form after not being able to practice together in-person for two weeks is no easy task.
“I think it was mentally draining because we had just made progress and then we had to stop,” Franks said. “So, I think the big mental part on our part was that we had to realize the season is not over, we get to come back in two weeks. I think for us to adjust to that, and we did workouts on Zoom, so I think we’re where we want to be right now and we’re going to keep striving to be better than we are right now.”
On Thursday, Central flashed some strong defensive play led by Jocelyn Roberson (19 digs), Kennadi Bradley (17 digs) and Emberton (12 digs) along with another solid performance from its freshman setter Avery Seale (24 assists).
On the other side of the net, Daleville was right there with Class 4A Muncie Central throughout most of every set. Diving defensive plays from Sarah Sizemore and Emi Isom and some strong play at the net from Ava Papai kept the Broncos alive in the first two sets. But some late Central rallies would help the Bearcats pull away for the eventual sweep.
“I always tell them to fight, fight, fight,” Daleville coach Valorie Flick said. “We can’t just get there and then stop because we did fight to get there, we just got to keep getting over that hump and keep fighting. … I remind them of that but they’ve got to find that within themselves. I can only show passion I have, it’s all up to them and their fate and what they believe in and they just have to go do it. They have to hate to lose, simple as that.”
As far as for Muncie Central, Franks said that following the win, the team’s goals are to win most of their conference games and improve upon last season’s record. Hughes said she hopes that Thursday night’s win can provide some momentum for her team moving forward.
“We did have a really tough game on Monday, we were right there and it was our first game back, too,” Hughes said. “… It was really nice to come back on our home floor and on senior night to be able to win tonight against a team that played hard and they did a nice job, so it was a good win for us.”