Led by talented junior and Missouri State commit Chloe Rear, the Strafford Lady Indians roared back from a hefty opening-set deficit on Thursday and kept momentum rolling from there – sweeping arch-rival Fair Grove by finals of 27-25 and 25-13 on the road.
The Lady Eagles were seemingly in complete control in the first stanza as Fair Grove (18-5) fed off a boisterous home crowd to ultimately built a 19-11 advantage, but Strafford (19-1-1), under the direction of head coach Ashley Bough, finished on a furious 16-6 run to steal a rather improbable set victory.
“It’s easy to fold in that situation and they did a really good job of keeping that mentality that it’s never over until it gets to 25,” Bough said of her team following her team’s win on Thursday. “They kept fighting back one point at a time, so I’m super proud of them for that.”
In Strafford’s case, it took 27 points instead of 25, but it all mattered the same in the end to Rear, who willed her squad throughout the comeback and tallied a match-high 17 kills on the evening.
“I think even when [Fair Grove] got runs on us and we were down, we were still able to keep our composure,” said Rear, who also collected four blocks. “We came out and played like we knew how to play and finish it off.”
The first-round drama led to a somewhat anticlimactic showcase in the second set as the Lady Indians, armed with heavy momentum fresh off a thrilling victory, never trailed and let Fair Grove make a bevy of unforced errors to cruise to the sweep.
“We just had too many errors back-to-back and we couldn’t stop that,” Lady Eagles head coach Tonya Peck said. “When that happens against a good team, the outcome is what it was tonight.”
Adding in the ever-intriguing element that Thursday’s match was between two bitter rivals, Strafford seemed to push just a little bit harder than usual – something that, according to Peck, Fair Grove simply wasn’t able to match.
“The difference between us and Strafford is that Strafford’s heart is huge,” Peck said. “They get touches on stuff and they don’t stop. Even if the ball never has a chance to get over the net, they’re busting their tail to get a touch on it and our kids are giving up on things. That’s not something that comes with skill level, it comes with heart.”
The win for Strafford marks just the third time it has beaten Fair Grove in the last 13 meetings between the two teams. The two previous victories for the Lady Indians came in the 2014 and 2015 district title matches.
“It’s definitely something personal to me now,” Rear said in reference to being part of the rivalry. “In my freshman year it was crazy coming into it, especially at the varsity level. I think now, just looking at it, it plays a big role for me. There’s a lot riding on it and people expect a lot out of you.”
Strafford senior Gracie Morton led the way in assists with 17. In the loss, senior Victoria Fishback recorded a team-high five kills for the Lady Eagles.
Both teams next participate in the Stockton Invitational Tournament on Saturday.