By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Lamar will host the Class 2 – District 11 Tournament, so Thursday’s Senior Night celebration wasn’t truly the final time Darrah Bartlett, Kara Beshore and Katelyn Mooney will step on their home floor competitively, but that didn’t stop Mooney from putting together her best performance of the season.
The 5-foot-10 senior put down a career-high 22 kills, leading the Lady Tigers to a 2-1 Big 8 win over Cassville.
Mooney’s performance was enough to impress Cassville coach Bri Kleine, who is no stranger to big-time hitters after wrapping up her career as a libero at Evangel in 2015.
“She’s not only tall, but she’s also quick,” said Kleine. “Many taller girls aren’t as quick as she is and she did a great job of keeping our block guessing where she was going to go. She was moving better than us and she was making great decisions. She can see the block and takes advantage of what she has, attacking smaller girls or even the setter when she’s not protected. She took advantage of our lack of size.”
Despite the emotions that Senior Night can bring, Cassville scored seven of the game’s first 10 points.
Lamar rallied from an 18-12 hole when Mooney rotated back to the front row, eventually taking a 23-22 lead. Cassville junior Brianna Hemphill took over from the back row, scoring two of the game’s final three points from there.
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Hemphill finished with 12 kills and four blocks.
The Lady Tigers got off to incredible starts in sets two and three, opening a 10-0 lead in the second set and a 14-4 lead in the third set. In both cases Cassville made small rallies, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the large holes that had been dug.
“I think tonight was just a little bit of Senior Night jitters,” said Lamar coach Chelsie Griffin. “After that first set we talked about how we needed to bring some energy – get excited for our seniors – and send them out in style. Those last two sets are typically more of our style. We came out with so much more energy in those last two sets.”
Cassville did manage to cut into the double-digit deficit in the third set, pulling within five at 21-16.
Griffin, seemingly never rattled, let her team play through the attack on their momentum.
In a district that has an abundance of parity on paper, Griffin wanted her team to be prepared for the intensity and emotional fatigue that playing in a district semifinal and championship on the same night can provide.
“At the end of that third set we were tired and people wanted me to call a timeout but that’s how districts are; it’s exhausting,” said Griffin. “The teams you see at that point are quick and strong. We have to be able to play tired, continue to move and maintain our energy if we want to win in districts.”
Bartlett finished with 24 assists for Lamar. Sophomore Ryen Willhite finished with seven aces.
Cassville continues to develop in Kleine’s first year.
The Lady Cats won 18 games over the last three seasons combined. They currently have 15 wins with two regular season games remaining and the Hollister Invitational.
This will be the program’s first winning season since 2009, but Kleine is hoping her team believes enough to continue to change the culture of Cassville Volleyball.
“I try to make sure that they know I believe in them 100%; I’m buying in and I think that makes them want to buy-in as well,” said Kleine. “Before games we talk about what we need to do to bring it and keep our energy up. When our energy is up we can play with anyone and that first set showed that. Districts is always a tossup and can be anyone’s game. If we stay positive and continue to buy in, anything is possible.”
Cassville will be in action Saturday at the Hollister Invitational. Lamar, which now owns sole possession of second place in the Big 8, will close the season on Oct. 10 at Seneca.