By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CASSVILLE — The fourth time playing for a district championship in as many years turned out to finally be the charm for the Mt. Vernon Mountaineers.
Mt. Vernon started out strong and outlasted the Lamar Tigers 3-0 (29-27, 25-14, 25-22) in the Class 3, District 12 championship match Tuesday night.
“We talked in the locker room about there was nothing that we were going to do to get better at volleyball,” Mt. Vernon head coach Bridgett Schmutz said. “We’re as good as we’re going to be at the game of volleyball, so it was just having the belief that we could do it and this game was really going to be won between the ears, I guess you could say. I honestly think that showed up for us tonight, that first set we’re up a good amount and they came back. Credit to them to do that. We’ve been here before and lost this kind of game before, so knowing that we could win was what we needed.
“We’ve had some really good teams over the past decade and this is my fourth district championship in a row. Some that we were slated to win, some that we were the underdog for sure and finished second, rightfully so. I told the girls right from the beginning that it takes talent, it takes a lot of good teamwork, it takes a lot of defense, but it also takes a little bit of luck. This is huge for us.”
Mt. Vernon began play Tuesday by beating district host Cassville 3-0 (25-10, 25-15, 25-16) in the first semifinal. Then, Lamar needed a fourth set to beat Aurora in the next semifinal, giving Mt. Vernon additional waiting time before playing for a district title.
The Mountaineers, though, surged out with the match’s first four points and led the Lady Tigers 14-7 before seeing the No. 2 seed chip away on that lead and eventually the two teams traded it back-and-forth until the winning team nearly reached 30 points.
“Sitting around, you get cold and you watch and you get a little bored,” Schmutz said of the at least 2-hour wait between matches Tuesday. “Teenage kids, you never know how they’re going to respond to that, so I was happy that we did start strong because if we didn’t, that first set might not have turned out well for us. It was a big factor overall in our three sets.”
Mt. Vernon junior Cameryn Cassity came through with big plays late in the first set and throughout the match that swung momentum in favor of the Mountaineers, either a kill or a dig or a block. She finished with 10 kills and five digs.
“With Cam, we talk about this all the time,” Schmutz said. “Hard work is what you expect when you walk into the gym. We can make you work hard and every girl on our team works hard. None of them works harder than the other. What we need are competitors and Cam is a competitor. As soon as that whistle blows, she’s going to leave everything that she has on the floor and so for her to step up and do that (against Lamar) was no surprise to me.”
The Mountaineers featured a balanced attack. Ellie Johnston also had 10 kills and five digs and Reagan Boswell added five kills and she served the ace that ended the first set. Johnston hit the spike down the line and good that finished off the feisty Lady Tigers for good.
Lamar’s hard-spiking junior Kyleigh Talbott paced all players with 14 kills, most of them of the variety that fire up a team.
Ultimately, though, Mt. Vernon fans outnumbered Lamar fans at least 2:1 Tuesday night, which gave the Mountaineers the advantage in the being fired up department.
“That was huge,” Schmutz said. “For our girls, they feed off that and we’ve talked all season that we create our own atmosphere. We have to be the dictator of what happens for us, but it’s always fun when you have people getting loud and cheering for you and amping you up, so we appreciate that support 100 percent.”
Mt. Vernon, 20-10 overall, plays the Liberty Lady Eagles (25-5-4) in the sectional round Saturday. The winner of district 11 will host the match.
“We look at other teams and we find out about other teams,” Schmutz said, “But I told the girls from the word go that it’s about what we do well and as long as we continue to do those things that we do well, any given night we can beat anyone … but we can also lose to anyone any given night, so we’re going to keep focused on the things we need to clean up and the things we need to do to be successful.”