By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
During Ozark’s storied run of eight straight final four appearances, the Lady Tigers never lost to Kickapoo.
The eleven-game series has included four district title matchups and several close calls, with the Lady Chiefs on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Not this time.
After falling to the Lady Tigers over the weekend in the Bentonville Early Bird Tournament, Kickapoo returned the favor on Tuesday night, stunning Ozark in straight sets 25-20, 25-14.
The first set picked up right where the tournament left off, featuring tight, back-and-forth play. With little margin for error, neither team was able to put together any type of substantial run.
At least until the final series.
Following an Ozark error, Kickapoo gained a side out with sophomore Tayte Kozlowski rotating to serve.
With the Lady Chiefs up 23-20, the 5’10” outside hitter promptly served a pair of aces to close out the set and give Kickapoo a big momentum swing.
Kickapoo head coach Marci Johnson talked about the difference just a couple days can make when preparing to deal with a long, athletic team such as Ozark’s.
“When you make your own errors, you just try to clean up those and make some big points here and there,” Johnson said. “We really worked on our side. We know they have some hitters. They’ve got a lot of really good players, and we really tried to play to our strengths.”
One of those strengths for the Lady Chiefs this season has been Leah Vokolek.
The senior libero keyed an exceptional defensive gameplan for Kickapoo, clogging attack lanes and repeatedly turning back would-be kills from Ozark’s front line of 6-footers Macey Putt and Julia McCown.
Vokolek admitted the weekend loss was difficult, but extremely beneficial to the team.
“Playing them helped us out,” Vokolek said. “We learned a lot about them. We scouted them, we came out with a gameplan to figure things out, and we worked together tonight. Our energy was amazing, and our momentum; I’ve never been so hyped in my life.”
That momentum was on full display in the second set, as Kickapoo raced out to an early 18-10 advantage.
Strong service games from Vokolek, Koslowski and Kyra Burcham helped maintain runs and extend the Kickapoo lead.
Ozark would rally behind Putt and McCown; however, the Lady Tigers were unable to make up the sizeable deficit, falling 25-14 in the second and final set.
Koslowski led the Lady Chiefs with ten kills, while Harper Auman notched 18 assists and 11 digs in the matchup.
After the match, Ozark head coach Adeana Brewer talked about uncharacteristic errors and need for leadership among her squad.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” Brewer said. “We got caught standing up in defense and let some balls hit the floor that we don’t normally let hit the floor. I think we got a little bit rattled, when they put a lot of pressure on us. Kudos to them; a good team does that.”
Putt led Ozark with six kills, Katie Clay had eight assists and Haiden Baade scored 11 digs.
With both teams hoping to capitalize on deep runs in the postseason, it’s quite possible Kickapoo and Ozark could meet up yet again in October’s district tournament, with another championship at stake.
Until then, both teams will prepare for Aug. 31 road games. Kickapoo (7-2) heads to Rolla, while Ozark (7-2) travels to Jefferson City.
Varsity final: Kickapoo – 2, Ozark – 0