By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
MARSHFIELD – Nervous butterflies for All-State volleyballer Birdie Hendrickson for a district championship match? Even though she’s been through just about every so-called fire?
“There’s always butterflies. The district championship is huge, and I think Marshfield is one of the better teams this year in our conference,” Hendrickson said Tuesday night. “It’s really exciting going into it, and you could tell at first we were a little shaky.”
Hendrickson, however, ultimately powered defending state champion Logan-Rogersville to the Class 3 District 11 championship, teaming with a laser-focused supporting cast to beat the Marshfield Lady Jays 25-21, 25-15 at Marshfield High School.
Hendrickson’s 12 kills and eight digs — including seven kills in the opening set to ward off the Lady Jays’ ferocious attack – along with Sam Thompson’s 24 assists now have Rogersville moving on. The Lady Wildcats will be matched opposite the District 10 champion, which will host the sectional on Saturday. District 10 will be determined Wednesday.
For Rogersville (31-4), experiencing nerves was understandable – and not simply because Tuesday marked the start of its postseason journey toward a repeat state title. A year ago, Marshfield took the Lady Wildcats to three sets in the district championship, and then beefed up the schedule all season. Twenty-six days ago, these teams played to a 25-22, 25-18 final for Rogersville.
“It was all designed for this night,” Marshfield coach Jarod Olson said.
The differences Tuesday were both subtle and obvious: for one, Rogersville coach Tammy Miller switched her defensive strategy in the opening set – the middle blocker moved to the back; and, secondly, Hendrickson took over down the stretch, with four kills in the team’s final six points in the first match.
But that’s what it took to turn back Marshfield, which had beaten Springfield Catholic 26-24, 25-15 in the semifinal and charged ahead.
The Lady Jays had five leads in the opening set and forged an 18-18 tie, with Brooklyn Crawford en route to an eight-kill, three-block performance in the overall matches. But then Hendrickson took over and, with Rogersville leading 24-21, a Marshfield serve went long out of bounds.
“We had scouted them and scouted them and scouted them, so we knew their tendencies,” Miller said. “My kids executed a well thought-out game plan. They didn’t stop. I thought our kids handled the pressure well. It was a fun atmosphere. Marshfield is a very good ball team. They had some big plays.”
McKinzie Thompson had two aces, Libby Kish two blocks and Claire Taylor had eight digs for Rogersville, which swept No. 5 seed Willow Springs in two sets in the other semifinal.
In the second set of the district championship, Rogersville built 10-6 and 18-12 leads, prompting Marshfield to ask for timeouts.
In one stretch, with Hendrickson playing on the back line, the Lady Wildcats advanced from an 8-6 lead to a 14-7 advantage on Kish’s kill following a Jaden Robb service ace.
A few weeks ago, Rogersville figured it had yet to hit its stride. Maybe it is now.
“I think we’ve made improvements to where we are now, but we’re still hoping to peak,” Thompson said.
Meanwhile, it was a tough way to go for Marshfield, which finished 25-8-2. Emily Aldridge had 21 assists and nine digs. Addison Crider finished with eight kills, Brianna Utecht two kills and two blocks, and Ashlyn Grier had eight digs.
“We played well (in the opening set). We had some things go our way. We were executing and getting quick side-outs – and that’s what I told our team we needed to do,” Olson said. “(In the second set), we had some errors. When we play a team like Rogersville, we have to play almost close to perfect.”
Still, Olson saw quite a bit of improvement this season and commended the Lady Jays for soldiering on through a challenging schedule.
“I’m proud of our girls,” Olson said. “We had a great season.”