There’s always a sense of impending danger when a high school sports team goes through the Senior Night festivities.
There are the often-emotional pre-game ceremonies, where seniors are recognized one-by-one, walking out with their parents and siblings.
Teammates typically hand out gift bags, sometimes flowers, as the P.A. announcer spells out each player’s accomplishments over the last four years.
Then … all that emotion has to be put away somewhere for the game to start.
There was plenty of emotion – and even a few tears, as Branson High School’s volleyball team honored eight seniors on Tuesday night.
Keaton Wilczynski, Kayli Nimmo, Grace Dean, Mia LeBlanc, Jaden Moore, Jordyn Schwartz, Annie Graber and Alli Hawkins all made one of their final home appearances for the Lady Pirates.
There wasn’t any problem with the match, either.
Hosting a Carthage team that came in with a 21-7-1 record and fresh off a three-set victory over Willard in its last match, Branson didn’t miss a beat.
The Lady Pirates rolled to a 25-15, 25-13 victory, improving to 26-4 overall.
“It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that,” Branson coach Kailey Bridges said. “Senior Night, you want to play well and want to compete. Getting a win is just the icing on the cake.
“I know they are better than what they showed tonight. That says a lot, because they have a really good program and that was a very big win tonight.”
Branson never trailed in the first set and shrugged off a brief deficit in the second set to win for the seventh time in its last eight matches.
It sent the Lady Pirates into their final three regular-season matches on a big high.
Branson played at Carl Junction on Thursday before hosting Neosho on Monday and visiting powerhouse Willard on Tuesday.
“That’s what we talked about in our huddle, making sure that we’re still working on that incline and peaking at the right time,” Bridges said.
Branson finished with 23 kills against only three hitting errors as a team, with Schwartz (9 kills), Graber (8 kills) and Morgan LeBlanc (5 kills) leading the way.
Wilczynski finished with seven digs, and Dean and Mia LeBlanc added 10 assists each.
All told, it was a near-perfect night for the Lady Pirates.
“It’s just really exciting,” Graber said. “I’m glad we got through it. We all were really focused on working as a team.
“They are a really good team, and it’s exciting to get through it, and very emotional.”
Branson opened the match with a combined block by Dean and Graber for a point, then a service ace by Hawkins, and the Lady Pirates were on a roll.
Graber added a kill and another block, Schwartz had back-to-back kills, Morgan LeBlanc had two kills, and Moore put down a service ace to make it a 14-7 lead and force a Carthage timeout.
Morgan LeBlanc had a kill and a pair of blocks to end the set.
Carthage took a 2-0 lead early in the second set, but Graber and Schwartz had three kills each as Branson took a 9-6 lead.
A block and ace by Moore forced a Carthage timeout with Branson leading, 12-8, with Graber putting down two more kills and a block to make it a 16-8 lead.
Morgan LeBlanc had a kill and block to extend the lead to 21-9, and Schwartz had three kills to stave off any thoughts of a Carthage comeback and end the match.