INDEPENDENCE — With the SEK League title at stake, Labette County did not go gentle into that good night.
Trailing 21-16 in a decisive third set against Independence, the Grizzlies raged against the dying. With Anna Dean serving, Labette County rattled off six straight points and scored nine of the last 11 points of the match to beat the Bulldogs 2-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-23).
The win for the Grizzlies secured the school’s first volleyball league title since 2004.
“It’s pretty exhilarating to win out in three against them on their home floor,” Labette County head coach Heather Wilson said. “Especially in the fashion that we did.”
With Labette County trailing by five points late in the third set, Wilson called a timeout and lit into her squad. The Grizzlies’ rally immediately ensued.
“I had to say a few choice words in the huddle and I think it rallied them,” Wilson said. “It’s tough to do that. The kids battled and were resilient. We could’ve laid down there easily.”
Wilson was confident in Dean, normally Labette County’s top front row threat, to deliver in service and along the back row during the rally.
“I love Anna serving,” Wilson said. “That’s our second best rotation statistically. I love it when Anna is serving and we have Karsyn on that side. It’s balanced and we play well. I knew Anna would come out in the clutch.”
Karsyn Stewart had three kills over the final nine points for Labette County as she dominated along the front row.
“We had to get on a roll and I knew I had to be a leader,” Stewart said. “We just had to get it done.”
Independence controlled a large swath of the match. After falling behind 15-5 in the first set, the Bulldogs went on a 61-46 run including a win in the second set.
“We were in the net a lot tonight and had some silly mistakes,” Wilson said. “But this was a long time coming — beating Independence in a league championship match.”
Dean led the Grizzlies with 18 kills to go along with 15 digs and three blocks. She maintained a .333 hitting percentage throughout the match.
Sophomore setter Shelbi Wilson tallied 36 assists and 17 digs as well as five kills. Stewart finished the evening with 12 digs and 10 kills. Lauren Forbes led the Grizzlies with 22 digs on a night where the team amassed 93.
“We were pretty clean early,” Wilson said. “We had clean passes, set the ball and attacked. We adjusted to what they did hitting-wise. We sided out quickly all game.”
For Wilson, who’s been a staple of the coaching ranks at Labette County for over two decades, this was her first league title as a head coach. Wilson took over for Kristi Snider as head volleyball coach in 2016.
“I’m really happy for these kids,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely not about me. At all. I always want it badly for them.”
Going into the fall campaign, Wilson proclaimed that a goal for the Grizzlies was to earn a league crown.
“It means a lot to us,” Stewart said. “That was one of our goals this year. We finally get to hang a banner. It’s been too long. I’m pretty excited because now we get to be up there.”
Thursday’s match at Independence was born out of the same COVID-19 pandemic that has fostered uncertainty and instability throughout high school athletics. Independence missed two weeks due to a team-wide quarantine and scheduled Thursday’s make-up matches against Chanute and Labette County.
All three schools in attendance on Thursday had a chance to earn the SEK League title, with Labette County controlling its own destiny.
Labette County now gears up to host a KSHSAA 4A Sub-State bracket on Saturday alongside Coffeyville, Independence and Parsons. The Grizzlies will face Coffeyville on the first round.
“It’s poetic that it goes out in a really unique way,” Wilson said. “I’ve coached 23 years and we’ve never played the Thursday before sub-state. It couldn’t be more perfect. We know Independence won’t go away. We’ve got a long way to go on Saturday. But this was a fitting opportunity.”