By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Interest ran high in the packed grandstands for the Oct. 11, Watauga County middle school volleyball tournament’s title match. While many expected the coronation of Hardin Park, the undefeated regular season champs, to be a mere formality, league rival Parkway had other ideas.
Sometimes it is the underdog that comes out on top and that was the case when Parkway’s team upset their nemesis and Watauga County’s powerhouse program, Hardin Park, 2-1 (20-25, 25-23, 15-13).
As middle school volleyball matches go, it doesn’t get much more entertaining. Big rallies, dagger serves, deftly placed sets and diving digs were featured in abundance at Lentz Eggers Gym, along with well-placed dinks and a few laser beam kill shots — all by both sides.
Often, the final score and outcome were settled by a war of attrition: who made the fewest hitting errors.
The match started out as if Hardin Park’s coronation as the queens of middle school volleyball was all but certain. The Golden Eagles were near flawless in jumping out to a dominating lead, then outlasting a Parkway closing rally to win the first set, 25-20.
But Parkway used that closing momentum to make the second set a back and forth nail biter, the lead changing hands a half dozen times before closing out the second set with a nervous, 25-23 win.
The same was true for the third and final, 15 point, win-by-two tiebreaker set. Hardin Park looked poised to run away with it, but Parkway kept battling back and battling back before an atypical Golden Eagles hitting error pushed the east side upstarts to the 15-13 set and match win.
To get to the final, Hardin Park was rarely challenged by an enthusiastic, but outmatched Blowing Rock side, 25-11, 25-10. Meanwhile, Parkway advanced over Cove Creek, 25-12, 25-21.
Parkway coach Susan Hemric acknowledged the upset over a terrific Hardin Park team in speaking with High Country Sports after the championship match.
“We were the No. 2 seed for a reason. Hardin Park was undefeated this season up until tonight and they were the only team to which we had lost. Tonight, both teams gave it their all and that is what makes for a great championship when those two sides give it everything they’ve got,” said Hemric.
Speaking to what the differences there were between Parkway’s two losses to Hardin Park in the regular season and their ability to stage a comeback win in the tournament final, Hemric was decisive in her answer.
“We definitely covered the floor a lot better,” she said. “We were much better prepared to receive tips and hits. Our girls really stepped up and were willing to cover those areas, where they were more intimidated, I think, in those earlier matches. The digging tonight on both sides was phenomenal for this level, to keep the ball in play.”
Hemric, who started coaching at Parkway in 2010 and has been there ever since, has seen all of the Farthing siblings go through her program, except for the oldest, Meredith. Sydney Farthing went on to star at Watauga before playing as part of the Appalachian State team. Rebekah Farthing similarly was a standout for the Pioneers before going on to play currently for Georgia Southern University. And Caroline Farthing is currently a senior at Watauga and has committed to play for Appalachian State.
“I have to give all the credit for my growth as a volleyball coach to Angie Farthing and Kim Pryor,” said Hemric. “Angie allowed me to go with her to various clubs and was the first to teach me how to coach. She even taught me how to get mad! Kim has been a terrific mentor. I will go to her at times and ask questions about a lineup, to get feedback, to make sure I am getting our girls in positions where they need to play.”
In his missive to Watauga County Schools personnel afterwards, Hardin Park head coach and middle school athletics coordinator for the county said, “Congratulations to the Parkway Patriots for winning the 2022 Watauga County Middle School tournament! Congratulations to Coach Susan and the team!”