By Nolan Epstein (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Two days plus three games equals a Class 1, District 6 volleyball championship. Yes, for the Billings Lady Wildcats, the math checks out.
After coming up short at the hands of Miller in last year’s district title match, head coach Britany Cheek’s team finished the job this time around by taking out No. 1 seed Plato in straight sets Tuesday to reach the state sectional round for the third time in four years.
“We kind of got the monkey off our back,” Cheek said following the win. “We really wanted to win districts this year because we lost last year and we wanted revenge.”
The Lady Wildcats (17-11), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, had to take the long way to get there – taking care of the Everton Lady Tigers in the opening round on Monday before playing their semifinal match against Fordland earlier on Tuesday.
With Plato (18-15-1) representing the final hurdle for a tested Billings bunch just coming off an exhausting win in the semis, it seemed a near certainty that fatigue would start to play an ugly role for the Lady Wildcats.
But that was far from the case as Billings looked like the fresher team – winning both sets with relative ease by finals of 25-15 and 25-18 on its home floor.
“We condition a lot, and we’re prepared to play back-to-back [matches] and do whatever we need to do,” said Cheek. “They’re just good athletes. They can pull it out from anywhere and play.”
Billings pounced on the Lady Eagles early – using a 9-0 run to claim a 14-5 lead in the first set that it would never relinquish. The Lady Wildcats would work their way up to nabbing an eventual 21-8 advantage before securing the 10-point victory.
“When we start out strong, we finish well,” Cheek said. “How are hitting goes dictates how we’re going to play our game if we can stay aggressive.”
The theme of strong starts continued in the second set as Cheek’s club took the first four points and 15 of the set’s first 22. Plato put together a small run late and cut the lead to 22-17, but several communication errors ultimately dug a hole too deep for the Lady Eagles.
With the second-set score in favor of Billings, 23-18, sophomore Kortney Kimberling delivered back-to-back aces to clinch the district championship in dramatic fashion.
“I didn’t really think I could do that,” Kimberling said of her timely aces. “But I believed in my team, they believed in me and I just did it.”
Although Kimberling had her moment of glory, the night belonged mostly to fellow sophomore Elizabeth Gearing, who logged an amazing 34 assists in the contest.
“She’s a ridiculous athlete,” Cheek said of her 5-foot-6 setter. “She can get anywhere on the court in a matter of a second. She’s awesome.”
Despite not being able to hold any first-place hardware, Plato will now be able to display a new second-place district plaque at its school for the first time since the George H. W. Bush administration.
“That’s something to be proud of even though we really wanted first place,” Plato assistant coach Tory Wade said. “It is what it is.”
Sophomore star Allison Hall tallied seven kills in the championship match for Plato.
Billings advances to play Hurley (16-12) in sectionals on Saturday.