By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Young, inexperienced teams often build for the future.
For the Hurley Lady Tigers, that future is now.
After dropping its opening set, Hurley came storming back to defeat Blue Eye in the Class 1, District 7 championship (20-25, 25-19, 25-18).
Featuring a lineup full of underclassmen, the No. 4 Lady Tigers upset No. 1 School of the Ozarks in an earlier semifinal match before claiming its first district title since the 2001-02 season.
Paige Simpson helped propel Hurley’s attack with 13 kills and 9 digs on the evening. While effective throughout the first two sets, the sophomore middle found another gear when it mattered most.
After a series of hitting errors, Hurley found itself trailing 14-17 in the final set and in dire need of a big play to regain momentum.
With a monster kill from the middle of the net, Simpson keyed a furious 11-1 Hurley rally down the stretch that included 3 kills, 2 blocks and a pair of aces from fellow sophomore Jazmin Flores.
Hurley head coach Melissa Dhondt praised her young team’s resilient nature in a pressure-packed situation.
“We just couldn’t put a ball away for a minute,” Dhondt said. “We were just making mental errors and then, all of the sudden, little Paige out of nowhere just decided to turn it up and finish the ballgame for us.”
After her three biggest hits of the night, Simpson was quick to credit setter Hailey Chamberlain, yet another sophomore, for spotting the ball.
“[Hailey] is a really good setter,” Simpson said. “She was putting the ball high and tight, and that’s where I get my best swings. We really needed some momentum to really carry us through those last few points, and I needed to do this for my team.”
While School of the Ozarks posted the district’s best record at 18-8-3, seeding the top four teams was no easy affair. With a little more confidence, Dhondt feels her team could have avoided the voting process, altogether.
“Tonight was all about making the girls believe in themselves,” Dhondt said. “If they had this kind of faith in themselves from the get-go, it would have never been a question of who should have been first.”
For Blue Eye (8-14-4) and head coach Amanda Reagan, the story was nearly the same.
Like Hurley, the Lady Bulldogs are a young, inexperienced team with a lineup full of underclassmen. Blue Eye, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 3 Galena to reach the district final.
While Reagan makes no excuses, she also knows the future is bright for her team.
“We have a few mis-hits, we have a few errors, and then the girls play scared,” Reagan said. “They start to tip, and they start to send free balls over, and we make it too easy for the other team to get it in the system. I just tried to tell them to stay positive, because we’ve got another year ahead of us. I’m hoping they come out hungry next year.”
Freshman Kohnnar Patton led the Lady Bulldogs with 9 kills. Sophomore Kenedi Larson finished with 23 assists.
Up next for Hurley (16-9) is a sectional round matchup against Billings. The Lady Tigers will host the Oct. 22 match.
Class 1, District 7 final: Hurley – 2, Blue Eye – 1