Mustangs outlast Hawks in four-set thriller at 16th annual Pink Game

Viera's Mak Carter (left) and Sydney Williams go up for a block during Tuesday night's Pink Game against Merritt Island. The Hawks lost 3-1 in four close sets.

The Pink Game returned in a big way at Viera High Tuesday night.

A big, enthusiastic crowd watched two of Brevard County’s top programs battle it out over four sets as the Merritt Island Mustangs defeated the Hawks 26-24, 25-20, 23-25 and 26-24 in a well-played, tightly-contested battle.

Many fans came dressed in pink in honor of the Pink Game, which helps benefit breast cancer research. Last year’s event was not held because of the COVID pandemic.

It was the last regular-season match for the Hawks (12-9), who will host the Class 6A, District 12 tournament beginning next week.

“Every game that we have, we have something little that we need to work on,” Viera High coach Sarah Wayne said. “We’ve worked a lot on our defense and I thought we played pretty good defense, but then there’s more to it than just one aspect of the game.

“Each day gets us closer to our ultimate goal of what we want to do. That’s why we schedule matches like this. That’s why we went to the (Swing for the Cure) tournament a couple of days ago. That’s why we played Merritt Island home and away.

“We might as well play the best competition. It’s all about figuring out what we need to do to get better.”

The Hawks trailed 24-18 in the first set before making an incredible comeback, scoring six straight points to tie things up. However, a Viera service error gave the Mustangs a set point and the two-time state champions converted.

Merritt Island would go up 2-0, but Viera refused to go away. In the most tightly contested set from start to finish, the Hawks rallied once again, this time from a 23-21 deficit to score four straight points.

The fourth set offered more drama as Merritt Island led 22-20 only to have Viera tie it up again at 22-22, 23-23 and 24-24. But after staving off one match point, the Hawks couldn’t do it again and the Mustangs came away with the victory in a highly-entertaining matchup.

Junior Mak Carter had a big night for the Hawks with a team-high 15 mills to go with 20 digs. Williams, also a junior, had 13 kills, 13 digs and three blocks.

Senior Kelly Merz, filling in at libero for senior Hannah Bradford, also had a huge night for Viera with 24 digs, five assists and three aces.

Sophomore Mallory Merz had 41 assists and four aces. Senior Angie Durso led the Hawks with five blocks.

“The girls played well tonight,” Wayne said. “This is a lineup we’ve never run before – ever – so I’m proud of them for that. Mak played back row, Kelly was libero … it’s something we’ve never done before and they just said, ‘OK, coach. We’ve got you.’

“I’m really proud of them.”

Bradford is expected to be back for the Hawks in time for next week’s district tournament, where they will be the No. 1 seed and have a first-round bye along with No. 2 seed Melbourne.

Viera is scheduled to play in the semifinals Tuesday night at 7 against the winner of Heritage and Fort Pierce Westwood.

“I hope so,” Wayne said when asked if her team was ready for the district tournament.

“The girls … it’s up to them. We’ve given them all the tools, and hopefully they understand the goals that we set forth at the beginning of the year.”

Though the loss to Merritt Island was certainly disappointing for Viera, there’s no question the 16th annual Pink Game was a success.

All proceeds from the event, which included silent auction baskets and a serving contest, will go to benefit the Side-Out Foundation for breast cancer research.

“I’m really proud of the atmosphere, for both schools,” Wayne said. “It means a lot. And it was a good game, which makes it better.”