Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA — The Nixa Lady Eagles volleyball team (18-4) wanted to make an early, sustainable statement this season.
Well — those Eagles rattled off 10 consecutive wins to kick-start the 2019 campaign, and have added eight more wins since — so, statement made.
Nixa soared to the home win Tuesday — a straight-set victory, 26-24, 25-20 — against Central Ozark Conference foe Branson (25-4), pushing the Eagles to an 18-4 record.
While 18 wins is impressive, so are the lessons learned via the losses, as they came against elite talent: Southside High School (Arkansas), Willard, Lafayette (Wildwood), and St. James Academy.
While the adage ‘one game at time’ is about as cliché as one can get from an athletics standpoint, it time-tested tradition rings true for the Eagles.
Senior catalyst Lexie Gregory said the early lead was pivotal.
“I think it was just working together as a team. And no matter what was happening on the court, we just kept going with everything, continuing to keep playing those balls and wearing out the other team.” Gregory said.
The night paralleled a prize fight, with both teams throwing jabs and countering with solid defense.
The Eagles’ defense was responsible for delivering countless jabs to the Pirates offense which, in turn, ignited more offense and second-chance opportunities, in which Nixa took full advantage. Yet, another factor in the conference win.
“I think it definitely helped a lot, because at one point in the first set, our offense wasn’t getting a whole bunch of kills. So keeping up with the defense and keeping the balls up and going, I felt it helped the offense,” Gregory said of her team’s balanced attack.
The Eagles kept pushing throughout the opening set, as both teams surrendered the lead at multiple junctures, and being down 20-17 and 21-18 may rattle some programs, while the outcome lies in the balance, the Eagles fly to their own tune, and Gregory’s bulldog mentality lends itself as an extension of the coaching staff.
As for her leadership qualities, the senior said she’s a hybrid.
“I am kind of a combo. I want everyone to rally around and get that into the feel for the game and get that energy going and go and get those balls and come together as a team,” Gregory said. “But also I am like, ‘OK, let’s go get this next ball, because we have to get this.’ So it is definitely a combination of those two things.”
In the second set, the kills starting multiplying as Kenzie Hines flew above the net for the slam, as did Jaycee Fixsen, and Taylor Golmen’s front-line defense served as the complement for multiple early leads, as did Sydney Golden’s ace to carry the quick-strike momentum.
But, down 19-18 late, and each possession proving more vital, Gregory and company dug in, showcasing reckless abandon for their bodies, authoring a three-point and four-point run down the stretch to seal the deal.
Nixa hosts Webb City Thursday before heading to Republic (Oct. 15) and Neosho two days later, before the annual Ozark Grand Slam Tournament (Oct. 19).
So, where are the Eagles now that the schedule is winding down as districts approach?
Added Gregory: “We are on the uphill swing. We just have to keep growing, especially after what happened to us last weekend. I think that tonight, again, we were trying to figure out who we are. After this weekend and coming into this game, we have to forget about that and move on to the next game”
The Eagles went 4-2 at last weekend’s Blue Springs South Invitational.
Dig for a Cure
The night also was one of a prosperous nature, as the Eagles raised $1,087 to benefit the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks.
“The event itself is very special to us — to our whole team, our families, and everybody really gets into it to make it happen,” said Nixa head coach Annie Zimmerman. “We are really proud that we get to host this type of event, and we get to do that with a great team like Branson. They are very supportive as well. It is just a great night coming together for a great cause, and that is awesome.”
Zimmerman said that when you pop in game film of the Pirates, pretty much everything they do resonates.
Added Zimmerman: “Branson has a fantastic record, and we knew coming in they had some really quality wins. A couple of their losses, they have been playing people really, really close. So we knew this was going to be a tough match. We were very impressed with what they did defensively. They gave us a lot of trouble, and, luckily, our players responded.”
Golden, Lauren Weber, and Jordan Collard all collected aces.
Collard and Hines added seven kills. Golman had six. Golden also had 25 assists.
Gregory tallied 11 digs.
Keaton Wilczynski and Mia Leblanc both notched one ace each.
Grace Dean added 10 assists and Annie Graber added three blocks and eight kills.
Wilczynski also had 12 digs.