By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — In an early-season meeting of area heavyweights, Nixa utilized depth and balance to defeat Kickapoo in straight-sets (25-16, 25-21) Tuesday night.
Seniors Jordan Collard and Kenzie Hines combined for 15 kills to lead the Lady Eagles attack.
Collard notched 8 digs and 3 aces in the victory, as well.
The all-state selection talked about slowing down Kickapoo’s vaunted net play.
“We really worked all week to just focus on those hitters and, really, just make our defense work around it,” Collard said. “We knew it was going to be tough, but we made ways to make it work.”
From the opening serve, both teams battled to establish momentum.
Midway through the first set, Hines queued a 3-0 run with a trio of kills to give Nixa a 17-11 lead.
Lady Eagles head coach Annie Zimmerman praised her team’s ability to move the ball quickly, find open spots on the floor and keep Kickapoo out of system.
“In the first set, I felt like we were kind of controlling the tempo with our offense,” Zimmerman said. “We were making good connections — our center-hitter connections were good — so, we were able to keep that tempo really fast. I thought that kind of put them in some situations where they weren’t in system quite as much.”
A 7-1 run helped Nixa close out the first set in dominant fashion.
The Lady Eagles jumped out quickly to a 10-2 lead in the second thanks to Collard’s strong play at the service line.
Zimmerman praised her senior leader’s performance in a critical spot.
“When [Collard] steps back there, she’s super-confident and hits the spots that we’re telling her to hit,” Zimmerman said. “Her accuracy — that’s big. Every serve that she sends across the net might not be the hardest or the fastest, but she’s putting it where we want her to.”
Despite the early deficit, Kickapoo battled back behind Tayte Kozlowski.
The all-state senior notched 7 of her match-high 11 kills in the second set to help bring the Lady Chiefs within striking distance at 22-20.
Zimmerman noted the difference in her team’s play.
“We’ve talked about how we have to expect teams to play really good defense against us,” Zimmerman said. “Kickapoo is one of those teams. They did an unbelievable job of keeping some of our really good swings off the court, and they just weren’t letting us score.”
Just when Kickapoo seemed poised to take the lead and steal the second set, Nixa’s Sydney Golden sealed the win with a heads-up play.
The sophomore setter executed a perfect dump at the net to close out the match.
Golden was quick to credit teammate Lexie Gregory for spotting the opening.
“Our libero saw it,” Golden said. “[Gregory] always sees it. They thought I would set it at the last point, so I was like, ‘Okay … I’m gonna go ahead and do this,’ and I think it caught them off guard.”
Golden led the Lady Eagles with 16 assists.
Despite the loss, Kickapoo head coach Marci Adams was pleased with her team’s effort, particularly during the second-set rally.
“For some reason, this doesn’t feel as bad as what a loss should feel like,” Adams said. “I think Kickapoo volleyball took care of things on our side.”
Adams credited Nixa’s balanced attack and the problems it creates when properly executed.
“Nixa has a balanced offense, and their setter does a nice job of running that,” Adams said. “So, we had to stay neutral and try to defend everybody. That’s a tough job when you’ve got three good hitters across the net.”
Lauren Faria notched 22 assists and Katelym Owen added 8 digs to lead the Lady Chiefs.
Up next for Kickapoo (8-2) is a match with Camdenton on Thursday, Sep. 19. Nixa (5-0) prepares for this weekend’s Springfield Classic. The Lady Eagles will begin play against Glendale.
Varsity final: Nixa – 2, Kickapoo – 0 (25-16, 25-21)
JV final: Nixa – 2, Kickapoo – 1 (25-17, 19-25, 25-15)
Frosh final: Nixa – 2, Kickapoo – 0 (25-15, 25-19)