Platte County’s final week of the regular season included a loss to a potential postseason foe and navigating another very different potential loss while wrapping up a third straight unbeaten Suburban Conference Blue Division championship. While the Pirates dropped a match in straight sets at Liberty on Monday, the bigger concern ahead of Saturday’s Class 5 District 16 semifinal against No. 4 seed Staley, which knocked off No. 5 seed Oak Park in Thursday’s first-round match, will be the health of senior setter Emerson Walter, who was involved in a one-vehicle car accident the morning before an easy 3-0 sweep of Ruskin in the final home match of the season.
Walter escaped with fairly minor injuries, but her status for top-seeded Platte County remains uncertain.
“It was sad that she couldn’t be with us (in the game) here tonight, but she was supporting us here on the bench,” Platte County senior libero Morgan Cox said. “We’re excited for districts to come up, and hopefully, she’ll be back with us this weekend. If not, then we’re glad to have the younger girls come up with us. We’re all supporting each other, and we can’t wait.
Walter, who recently set Platte County’s single-season record for assists in a season, most recently played in the Monday’s 25-15, 25-17, 26-24 loss to Liberty. The Pirates’ five-match winning streak ended after a slow start with the offense limited outside of senior all-state outside hitter Kate Brown (team-high 12 kills) and senior Mary Grace Hunter (11 kills).
Platte County (22-9) actually recovered and led 18-10 in the third set before losing momentum and failing to force a fourth set against the Blue Jays (25-4).
“I think we learned to work together a lot better because they’re a really good team,” Cox said. “And we’re also a really good team, and learning to lose is a good thing, so everyone stepping up to cheer each other on was a good thing.”
Normally a strong service team, Platte County managed only four aces total — one each from Cox, Brown, Emerson, sophomore Ava Wheeler — while Liberty rolled up 13. The Pirates were their typically strong self on defense with Wheeler (13), Cox (11), Hunter (10) and Walter (10) all in double figures for digs, while Brown added nine. However, they committed 12 serve receive errors.
Platte County easily earned the No. 1 seed in the five-team Class 5 District 16 bracket, while Liberty is the No. 2 seed in Class 5 District 15 behind defending state champion Liberty North (29-3). Moved back up to the state’s largest classification, Platte County played in Class 4 a year ago when the state first went to give classifications, and the Pirates enjoyed one of the best season’s in program history, reaching the state semifinals for the first time and finishing third.
“We told those girls that was a good measuring stick as to where we are going into districts,” Platte County coach Katlyn dDonovan said. “Obviously, we won’t see them in our district. We could see them past districts. We didn’t play our best volleyball yesterday. Our serve receive struggled a bit. Liberty’s a great team, a lot of aggressive hitters. Had them in a third set, and they got on a good serving run. I think that match better prepares us for district play than other matches.”
The regular season finale provided a different kind of challenge for Platte County, especially after the news of Walter’s car wreck. After spending some time in the hospital earlier in the day with minor injuries, she sat on the bench and cheered on teammates in the Pirates’ 25-5, 25-2, 25-11 victory against overmatched Ruskin.
Platte County completed the Blue Division schedule at 11-0, having lost one postponed game against Grandview that was unable to be rescheduled. That means the Pirates will carry a 39-match conference winning streak into next season, having not lost in league play since late in the 2018 season.
“These games are tough, but it’s still good for us to challenge ourselves to get better with communication, do all the little things right,” Donovan said. “But it also gives us a good opportunity to get the younger players in, get future Platte County varsity players a little playing time at the varsity level. It still brings out the good in us.”
With Walter out and sophomore reserve setter Emma Harned unavailable, Ava Wheeler took on the majority of setting duties while freshman Karlee Riggs filled the other half of Platte County’s 6-2 formation. The Pirates have gone to a 7-1 with Walter as the lone setter but were forced to adjust in a forgiving scenario.
Wheeler served up a team-high eight aces to go with 23 assists.
“She’s a great, great kid,” Donovan said. “You know, she’s been predominantly playing defense for us, and tonight with Emerson’s situation, she had to get thrown into the setting role — didn’t even blink an eye. She was fine with it and put up a good ball. She did great tonight.”
Ruskin struggled with returns, and Platte County collected 23 total aces with Brown (seven) and junior Karsyn Stehlik (six) also having long runs at the service line. Stehlik served 13 straight points to help Platte County close the first set on a 14-0 run.
Wheeler and Brown were dominant in service in the second set with the long runs producing their gaudy ace totals.
Platte County used the dominant performance as a chance to see the depth of the bench. Riggs led all attackers with 11 kills, while starters Stehlik (six), Brown (five), Hunter (five) and sophomore middle hitter Kendall Johnson (three) held below their normal production.
“Glad to have some of the underclassmen step up and be with us and come up with the team and fill in (Walter’s) spot tonight” said Cox, who led the Pirates’ defense with seven digs.
Platte County enters the postseason in a difficult spot for multiple reasons. The returning Class 4 District champions return to a field of more daunting opponents, and Brown — Platte County’s all-time leader in career kills — was the only starter in 2018 and 2019 when the Pirates were in the largest of four classes. Additionally, Harned, Wheeler, Riggs and potentially even Hunter could be called upon to handle setting duties if Walter can’t play.
The semifinal winners Saturday will meet in the championship match on Tuesday.
While having no meetings this season with Staley nor Oak Park, Platte County swept two matches with Class 5 District 16 No. 2 seed Park Hill and owns a two-set victory over third-seeded St. Joseph Central in the Winnetonka Tournament. The Pirates’ four-player senior class wants to make another postseason run but likely needs Walter in the fold to reach those goals.
“With Emerson and MG and Kate, they all played in that great run we had for state,” Donovan said. “So we’re looking for them to lead the team going into districts. They’ve all been in this situation. We’re just hoping they lead us in the right direction.”