Another Shannon County volleyball team is headed to the Class 1 volleyball final four, and this time it’s the Eminence Redwings’ turn.
Eminence flashed its array of power hitters and hustling defenders in Saturday’s sectional-quarterfinal pod held at Hurley High School, defeating Wheaton and Billings in the process.
The outcome sends Eminence to state for the first time since the Redwings won it all in 2011. It also continues the trend of a Shannon County team (Eminence, Winona) making the Class 1 final four each season dating back to 2000.
The nearby rivals have combined for seven state titles overall, five by Winona. Eminence will aim for its third state title next weekend.
“The last couple of weeks have been exciting because we could all taste a little bit of state,” said Eminence coach Brooke Williams. “These girls have never experienced it. They’ve never beat Winona, they’ve never beat Mountain View (Liberty). They beat Winona twice this year, they beat Mountain View. Now they’re going to state. They’ve done a lot of ‘firsts’ for themselves this year.”
Against Billings, which defeated Hurley in an earlier sectional match, Eminence was first to the 10-point barrier in both sets and pulled away from there, winning 25-13 and 25-17.
Eminence spread the wealth in its dynamic offense. Wendy Smith had a team-high 10 kills against Billings, but was supplemented strongly by the likes of Mariah Smith (8 kills), Madison Keeling (8 kills) and Savanna Conner (7 kills).
“I have four power hitters and I mean they hit the ball hard,” Williams said. “The ball deflates every time they hit it. We have a dominant hitter on the front row at all times. Behind our dominant hitters is our defense. And we have an awesome defense.”
Setter Sydney Williams, in her first year at the position, had a busy night feeding Eminence’s hitters and finished with 27 assists.
Eminence’s back-row players came up big as well. Four Redwings – Kimberly Rolen, Mariah Smith, Kasey Wood and Williams – registered 10 or more digs. Rolen and Mariah Smith led the way with 13 digs apiece.
As a 7th grader in 2011, Rolen watched many games from the eventual state champion Redwings. After ending Winona’s run of four straight final fours earlier this week, then picking up two playoff wins on Saturday, Rolen and the Redwings will have a chance to bring home another state championship next weekend.
“It was a big relief to get out of districts,” Rolen said. “This year, we didn’t have any doubts. In the past few years we did, so that kind of brought us down. This year, we came in strong.”
Wheaton’s run ends against Eminence
Eminence’s toughest test on Saturday came in its opening match (sectionals) against 24-6-4 overall Wheaton.
The Bulldogs, riding one of the best seasons in program history, pushed Eminence to the brink in both sets but ultimately fell short, 25-23 and 27-25.
Bulldogs coach Robert Creekmore said the outcome had more to do with Eminence’s talent and experience than any shortcomings by Wheaton.
“I was telling the girls, ‘I can’t think of just one thing we didn’t do well,'” Creekmore said. “Usually, you can come up with, ‘We didn’t block very well. We didn’t serve-receive very well.’ I thought we did all of those things very well. Not perfect, but I think we the key things very well.”
Wheaton trailed 14-9 in the second set, but rallied to go ahead briefly at 16-15. The Bulldogs staved off two match points by Eminence before the Redwings finally prevailed.
Wheaton graduates a strong three-player senior class – setter Adison Goostree, and middle hitters Emily Killion and Karlee Mason – that led the Bulldogs to new heights this season.
“Coming into this season, there was not one person who thought we were going to win the conference, win the district and make it to this level,” Creekmore said. “Those were our goals, but we were not on anyone’s radar. We knew the work we put in during the summer and preseason practice. But I think we came out and surprised a lot of teams.”