Park City volleyball celebrates seniors by cutting loose in home finale
Tuesday night was senior night for the Park City High School volleyball team, the last chance for a group of competitors who have played together since 7th grade to take their home court.
And as the Miners dominating Ben Lomond two sets to none, it was time to have a little fun.
In a hurried huddle before the third set, senior Grace Wiczek raced to the locker room and threw on a red jersey, while several seniors and senior libero Lauren Carr prepared to take the lineup at the center position.
Before Tuesday, Wiczek had never donned the libero uniform. At 6’2”, she dominates the net, has been one of the Miners’ leading scorers for years, and has committed to play at Dartmouth next season. A defensive specialist she is not. But with only an exhibition match against no. 1 ranked Lone Peak and the state tournament left in this season, Tuesday’s match against Ben Lomond was the team’s last chance to goof off.
When the third set started, announcer Scott Chester rolled with the punches, mispronouncing Wiczek’s name as if she were a new player on the team. Earlier in the season, Wiczek, a team leader, joked that she still felt like a freshman sometimes, and as she took over the position of defensive specialist, it seemed the Miners had stepped into an alternate reality.
A couple points into the set, she couldn’t reach a Ben Lomond serve.
In the next play, senior setter Emily Smith lofted a perfect ball to Carr, who is 5’4” and has played libero since she was 13. Carr crushed it onto Ben Lomond’s paint, scoring her first-ever kill with the team. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she turned to hear teammates with a look of astonishment and put her hands to her head in disbelief. Liberos can’t strike a ball while its over the height of the net – she had never even been through the motions of a spike in a game.
Using the unorthodox formation, the Miners went up to an 8-6 lead over the helpless Scots (0-12 in Region 11, 0-14 overall).
Park City was already favored by a large margin over the Scots coming into the game, having secured the title of Region 11 champions, but the disparity was made painfully apparent during the first couple minutes of the match, when senior Grace Stover put the Miners ahead 9-0 through her floated serve alone. It swerved and dipped with no spin, and racked up more than twice the Scots’ total points in the first set, which the Miners won 25-4. Over the course of the match, Stover would earn 17 aces – as much as the rest of the team combined.
The Miners won the second set 25-11.
With the match all but won, the Miners wanted to savor their last moments on their home court.
The change in formation certainly prolonged it.
Smith lofted a ball straight to Wiczek, and as it floated temptingly down into what would be Wiczek’s usual flight path, the senior fought the urge to jump, then raised her arms before remembering the net is only 7’4” high and that any comfortable overhead hit for her was certainly against the rules for a libero. Wiczek awkwardly planted her feet, and rushed to bump the ball over the net.
Chester came over the loudspeaker to jokingly remind the seniors to take advantage of their time on the court, as if perhaps they would be benched for sloppy play.
But the Miners continued to dominate, with unfamiliar centers taking their turn at the net, gleefully shrieking after getting their first kills of their careers in their last-ever minutes on their home court.
Everyone on the team finished with a kill, but it was Wiczek that got the honor of finishing the match.
She took over serving for the Miners at 24-10, and tossed her serve high into the air before rushing onto it and drilling it in a low arc over the net for an ace.
When the match ended, there were almost as many tears as cheers. Wiczek seemed to feel a little of both – lauding the team for their efforts this season, and perhaps a little misty eyed.
“I am sad,” she said. “I’ve played in three senior nights and this one was finally my senior night. I don’t think it’s settled in quite yet, but it’s just been a big part of my life the last four years, and to have that finally be over is kind of hard to come to terms with. But I’m super grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, and everything I’ve learned in this program and will continue to learn because of this program.”
Coach Matt Carlson said the team has faced a lot of adversity over the season as it struggled to come together.
“The girls are super-talented – it’s our most talented team yet – but what’s been interesting is, the girls have dealt with a lot of personal issues on the team and there have been some tough things in between players, and it was just over the weekend that everything started clicking,” Carlson said. “We have been having conversations and conversations and conversations and then finally, over the weekend we became a family. But through those hard times, I think that made us closer.”
The team went 5-1 in an exhibition tournament last Friday and Saturday, falling only to Pleasant Grove, which is ranked No. 3 in the state.
With only a week to go, Carlson said the team was playing at its potential.
As for the switched positions, Lauren Carr said her first time at the net was nerve-wracking.
It had been a spontaneous decision to make the switch after Carlson told the team they could finish the match playing however they wanted.
“It definitely got me really excited,” Carr said of playing the net. “But I definitely don’t like hitting the ball.”
After a pensive moment, Carr said there was something she and the team had been talking about recently.
“It’s not that we think we’re going to go to the state championship game, it’s that we expect to go to the state championship game,” she said. “With all our training, with all our hard work, we know we’re going to get there, and we expect that from ourselves, from our team. … We’re going to leave everything down at UVU, and play with our hearts.”
The Miners will play in the first round of the state tournament on Wednesday, starting at 10:30 a.m. on court 3 at the UCCU Center at Utah Valley University in Orem.
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