By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Billings, Mo. — Billings staked its claim to the Southwest Central League crown Monday night.
The Lady Wildcats — undefeated in conference play — secured at least a share of the regular season title with a three-set victory over Blue Eye (21-25, 26-24, 25-21).
While the victory gives Billings an ample supply of momentum heading into the regular season stretch run, it did not come without a cost.
Senior all-state selection Bailey Groves went down early in the first set with an apparent ankle injury.
Billings head coach Brandi Sillavan gathered her team and urged each one to step up continue playing hard.
“I told our team this is still our game,” Sillivan said. “We’re still playing our rotation, and nothing’s changed. I wanted them to do everything they do when Bailey’s in there.”
With its do-everything playmaker unavailable to quarterback the team, Billings turned to another Baillie.
Senior hitter Baillie Williams moved right into Groves’ position, and the Lady ‘Cats battled on.
“At first I was frazzled, because [Groves] is a rock,” Williams said. “She’s someone we rely on so much but, in my mind, I wanted to do this for her, because if she was here, she’d be pushing us to do so much better.”
While Billings dropped the first set 25-21, the team was able to quickly regroup and rally.
Sillavan praised her team for its mental toughness following the injury stoppage.
“Honestly, the whole team did a great job at adjusting,” Sillavan said. “Everybody stepped up. Everybody started talking. We had a few points where we got down a little, and then the whole team came together.”
Midway through the second set, a 5-0 run allowed Blue Eye to recapture the lead at 11-8.
While senior Kohnnar Patton and sophomore Riley Arnold were controlling much of the pace at the net up to that point, Billings would not let the second set slip away unchallenged.
A kill from Morgan Heimer halted the Blue Eye run and allowed the Lady ‘Cats to jump back into the set.
Heimer, a senior middle hitter, plays all six rotations and gives Billings yet another versatile weapon. She talked about the difficulties adjusting to rotations without Groves.
“It was really hard having a different opposite,” Heimer said. “[Groves] is who we rely on when we’re on the back row, since we’re our two power hitters. Not having her, I was kind of, like, push through those rotations when you’re in the back row, get to those balls and do good for your team.”
After an error knotted up the score at 19-19, Heimer dominance at the net helped Billings push through and earn the 26-24 victory.
Blue Eye head coach Taylor Wittl stressed the importance of staying mentally focused during those tight battles where a set’s outcome can turn on a single play.
“We’ve been really working on our mental game when we come up against a team that is very competitive,” Wittl said. “Billings is one of those that is very competitive when you’re going for a conference and you’re going for a district.”
Volleyball has always been a game of momentum, and the third set was a perfect illustration.
Behind Willliams’ strong service game and Helman’s net play, Billings jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead.
The senior duo combined for two aces and two kills to open the final set.
Blue Eye didn’t wait long to respond in kind.
Following her own kill, Patton rotated to the service line and notched a trio of aces en route to an 8-0 Lady Bulldog run and 13-9 lead.
“That’s kind of what we were talking about,” Wittl said. “How it’s one ball at a time, and we just kept treating it as a mini game — win the mini game, win the mini ball, win the mini ball — so it’s not like a huge mountain. It’s just a little pile we have to get over.”
Unfortunately for Wittl and Blue Eye, Billings was playing its own mini games at the time.
Sophomore Emma Datema’s service game helped Billings recapture the lead for good with another 6-0 run.
While Blue Eye kept the score close, the Lady Bulldogs were unable to close the gap and fell 25-21 in the final set.
For Sillavan, the win illustrated her team’s resilient nature and ability to overcome adversity with the game on the line.
“We know we have a few weak rotations where we switch some things up,” Sillavan said. “But we need to keep talking and working together as a team, so when we get to our good rotations, we can push some points. They fought hard to make sure that we kept the ball rotating when we needed it to.”
Heimer led Billings with 16 kills and 4 blocks, while Williams added another 10 kills, 22 assists and 6 aces. Sophomore Lauren herd led the Lady ‘Cats with 18 digs.
Billings (13-3-2, 6-0) gets a quick turnaround with a trip to School of the Ozarks on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Blue Eye (17-5-1, 3-1) travels to Galena on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Varsity final: Billings – 2, Blue Eye – 1 (21-25, 26-24, 25-21)
JV final: Billings – 2, Blue Eye – 1 (15-25, 25-21, 25-8)
C final: Blue Eye – 1, Billings – 0 (25-23)