At the end, the student section rushed the court and, once the postgame team huddle broke, Strafford High School senior Rilie Vote rushed over to hug a couple of students and then bum-rushed family up in the bleachers.
A playoff victory? No. Not quite.
But is sure had the look of one Monday night when the Strafford Lady Indians of Class 2 beat Class 4’s Carthage Lady Tigers in straight and competitive sets, 26-24 and 25-22, at Strafford High School.
This on a night when Strafford rallied from 6-0 and 17-10 deficits in the opening set and yet willed its way to victory, with a raucous student section creating a deafening atmosphere on Senior Night.
“We were down 6-0 at first and I was shaking,” Vote said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to stick to passing. We were struggling in serve-receive. But we kept our composure and got back into by executing and came back out on top. It felt so good.”
Vote finished with 10 kills and two assists, while Missouri State commit Chloe Rear had nine kills, three blocks and 13 digs. Gracie Morton contributed 16 assists.
With it, the record ran to 28-1-1 for Strafford, which next week hosts the Class 2 District 12 Tournament and could have an advantage if the student section turns out again.
“Our crowd, they brought a lot of it for us. It’s nice to be able to play on your home court when you have support from almost everybody in the stands,” Strafford coach Ashley Bough said. “Our student honestly is the best around. They come to every single game. They cheer on the girls, and they have really contributed to our success this year.”
Strafford needed that additional spark against a Carthage team that is now 24-8 in a season when the Lady Tigers haven’t been afraid to challenge anybody.
More so, Carthage has an active offense and a tall front line that includes 6-foot-2 senior Kiley Tiller and Lynae Collier.
To their coach, Monday was a positive, even if it was a loss. Carthage is the No. 2 seed in its district tournament next week.
“Oh my gosh. This is great volleyball,” Carthage coach Tony Allmoslecher said. “When we play that hard, you bet. And they’re good. They’ve got some big-time hitters, No. 11 (Rear) and No. 4 (Vote). No. 4 had a good night against us.”
Vote led the rally in the opening set from 17-10 down with a pair of kills, setting off a 12-1 run. Along the way, Strafford seized momentum when sophomore Kentessa McMillen got two kills – one as she jumped almost flat-footed and hit the ball while falling away from the net – that forged an 18-18 tie.
Soon, Strafford led 23-19. But even then, the two teams kept battling. Carthage rallied to a 24-24 tie, before Vote’s kill and a long return won it for Strafford.
“I just try to work as hard as I can to get set. Even if I don’t, I just try to open up holes,” McMillen said.
Said Bough, “I thought tonight she really came to fruition. She had a couple of blocks and kills and we need her to be that way.”
The second set was see-saw all the way. It was tied seven times, including at 21-all. From there, Stafford took advantage of an unforced error, a long serve, and never relinquished possession. Vote had a pair of kills, including the final one after the teams exchanged several volleys.
Bough’s pep talk in the opening set – she implored the team, as she has all year, not to dwell on mistakes– was juxtaposed at the end with her standing in the far corner, patiently.
“They’re a good ballclub. They’ve beaten some good teams this year. They’ve went three (sets) with some,” Bough said of Carthage. “I knew it’d be tough tonight. If we were disciplined and out-worked them, we’d have success in this game.”
For Carthage, Ava Petticrew finished with five kills, Savannah Downing had 24 digs and Marley Hensley finished with 14 assists. But one stat stood out to their coach – an average of 2.0 passes per play, down from a usual 2.7. “Our serve-receive was just not that sharp,” Allmoslecher said.
“This helps us tremendously,” Allmoslecher said. “Our schedule is really up and down. Being able to play teams like this makes us play a higher caliber of volleyball. It’s privilege to come and compete against these teams.”