Mission Accomplished: Frankfort headed to state volleyball tournament

Chapin Jewell
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Frankfort's Jaci Rowe (4) and Taylor Mandell (2) prepared to defend the ball against Weir on Saturday. The Falcons defeated the Red Riders 3-2 to punch their ticket to the state volleyball tournament in Charleston."

SHORT GAP - Already armed with a plaque recognizing them as sectional champions after their victory over Keyser, the Frankfort Lady Falcons traveled to the extreme Northern Panhandle last Saturday with even bigger ambitions, that being qualifying for the state volleyball tournament in Charleston. After a day of hotly contested volleyball, mission accomplished, Frankfort is heading to state tournament.

In regional play, the formula to qualify was simple. Frankfort, as the sectional champion, played Weir, their section’s runner up. Keyser, their sections runner up, played host Oak Glen, their section’s champion. The two winners of those matchups, the first of the day, qualified for the state tournament. After that was determined, those two teams would then square off in a match, strictly for ranking and seeding purposes for the state tournament. 

It was frenetic in the Oak Glen gym with two matches going on, side by side and simultaneously. When the smoke cleared, Frankfort defeated Weir 3-2, and Oak Glen defeated Keyser 3-0, and the Falcons and Golden Bears earned their golden tickets to the gold-dome city.

“Right off the bat, we were really happy to see that some of our students had made the trip up to support us. It was nice to have a cheering section there along with our parents and grandparents as well. And, we actually could hear them which was nice, despite all the other noise. I felt like the energy was just so high there,” Frankfort coach Brooke Alkire-Higson stated.

According to Alkire-Higson, “In fact, it was loud enough there that for me, a coach, it was a little hard to communicate with them for sure. So, things did start out a little rocky.”

A little rocky indeed. Weir, playing just a few minutes from their home, started out on fire. The Red Riders jumped out to a 2-0 lead after besting Frankfort 25-21 and 25-17 in the match’s opening sets. Quite literally, at that point, Frankfort’s backs were against the wall and the season was on the line. One more loss and the season was over.

“We just knew going into that third game that if we didn’t win that one, it was over for us. We weren’t ready to accept that. We felt that if we could get our passing better to Reagan (Dyson), then she could get our sets well positioned, enabling us to put the ball down. When it came to us putting the ball away, we were doing so when we had the opportunity, we just weren’t getting enough of those opportunities,” Alkire-Higson explained.

Then it happened, a spark, a little magic, or just good old fashioned determination, maybe a combination of all three. In any event, Frankfort rallied, winning the third set in dramatic fashion 26-24 just to stay alive. Then came set four, another win, this time convincingly 25-15 to tie the match. Momentum was clearly on Frankfort’s side when they won the fifth and deciding set 15-8 to take the match 3-2.

Ticket to states punched. The first trip to the state tournament for Frankfort since 2017.

According to Alkire-Higson, “Once we started on a roll, it just got our confidence up, and the energy on our team started increasing. I think it was basically their determination and fight. They didn’t want to be done. It was like when we payed Grafton, these kids weren’t ready to be done. We went in as the underdog, which is kind of how it felt against Weir. But, we had to literally give it everything we had.”

As things heated up late in the Frankfort/Weir match, a special thing happened. Keyser, by that point, had already fallen to Oak Glen, and the Lady Tornado players and coaches gathered directly behind the Frankfort bench and were actively pulling for the Falcons to win. The two teams had gathered before their matches for mutual well-wishes, but to see Keyser players, who just saw their season come to an end, actively cheering for Frankfort, was a special moment indeed.

“That was something I don’t know I’ve ever seen before. I feel like we both kind of support each other, but, there was a point that I was coaching, and I turned around, and Keyser kids were videoing it, that’s how in to it they were. It was pretty impressive. Just having them right there behind our bench screaming, because we were far away from our crowd, just gave us extra energy and a push,” Alkire-Higson explained.

It’s impressive that Frankfort won the match and advances to the state tournament. It’s doubly impressive that the Falcons do so after weathering several storms and personnel changes with COVID and such. It hasn’t always been easy, then again, it’s not supposed to be.

According to Alkire-Higson, “We’ve overcome some difficult times. It wasn’t easy for any of us, to have the different changes, and people in and out. It’s been hard, tomorrow morning you wake up and somebody else is in quarantine. The grit and the closeness that they’ve built through this over the last couple of months is truly what has made this team so successful.”

Now it’s off to the state tournament. Frankfort did fall to Oak Glen 3-0 in the second match of the day. Ultimately, Frankfort did earn the 8 seed out of a total of 8 teams. That means the Falcons will square off against top-seeded Shady Spring in first round action early Friday morning.

“We’ve already played Shady Spring, back in September. We were kind of a different team then and we’ve come a long way. We lost to them, but I don’t think we put in a very tough fight. I’m going into it optimistically. I know they are the number one seed, but we have been the underdog before and came out on top. I think on any given day in the game of volleyball, you can beat anybody if your mind is right and things go in your favor,” Alkire-Higson explained.

As the Falcons embark on the trip to the state tournament, they reflect on the community and school support they’ve received.

“The community never ceases to amaze me. Tonight, there was dinner after practice, and cupcakes and Ice Cream Cakes from the Dairy Queen. Even during practice the cheerleaders walked in and had a huge basket full of treats for us with a good luck sign they all had signed. It’s awesome, the kids are super pumped and positive, and they’re really enjoying this for sure.”