By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nothing on the line, but definitely someone to play for.
Willard entered Thursday night’s non-conference showdown versus Logan-Rogersville missing a major piece from its lineup.
Junior Payton VanVeen, a 6-foot Division I commit, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Monday’s win over Marshfield.
The Tigers honored her by taking down the defending Class 3 state champions.
“We all did it for Payton, because she really wanted to play in this game,” said Willard senior Ashley Lasher.
Willard rallied for a three-set victory (19-25, 25-23, 25-15) over the Wildcats. The Tigers had three players finish with double-digit kills, led by senior Emily Terry’s 16.
VanVeen, who’s verbally committed to play at Missouri State, tore her ACL during warm-ups on Monday. She played a major role in Willard’s run to the 2018 Class 4 final four.
“It’s heartbreaking for us and for her,” said Willard coach Jamalee Hancock. “We’ve got ribbons on our shoes to honor her. We’re inspired by her. She’s a big loss, but we have to keep battling.
“I’m so proud of how my girls responded from Monday.”
Logan-Rogersville took the fight to Willard early on and won the first set, 25-19. Wildcats senior Birdie Hendrickson came out on fire and recorded nine of her match-high 18 kills in the first set alone.
The teams went back-and-forth in the second set and drew even at 20-all. Back-to-back kills from Lasher and Terry helped Willard (9-1 overall) avoid a sweep on its home court.
Lasher shook off a couple of errors in the first set to finish with 12 kills.
Her luck seemed to change as the match continued. With Willard leading late in the third set, she took a swing and got a favorable roll as the ball teetered on the net.
“I was just like, ‘Please go over.’ And it did,” Lasher said. “Honestly, I played timid in that first set. I think a lot of us did. We realized the intensity of the match; we haven’t had that intensity against us yet.”
Ashton Wildermuth, the third of Willard’s three seniors, finished with 35 assists.
“Our three seniors really stepped up,” Hancock said. “Ashton led our offense. She delivered a great ball all night. Lasher stepped up huge, especially in that last set with those back-row attacks. And Emily was solid all night.”
Maddy Bushnell and Taylor Crighton led Willard in blocks (five) and digs (17), respectively.
While there were no conference or district implications at stake, Thursday’s match featured two of the area’s top programs.
Logan-Rogersville (1-2 overall) beat Willard in straight sets at home last year en route to its state championship. Willard had a home crowd and raucous student section on its side for the 2019 matchup.
“I told the girls, ‘This is what high school volleyball’s all about,’” Hancock said. “It’s a non-conference game, but it’s two great teams. These are where memories are made.”
Logan-Rogersville travels to Ozark on Tuesday. Willard returns to action the same night at home against Glendale.