By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Clever Blue Jays strolled into the Class 2 District 9 championship Tuesday night with a little extra confidence. Not just because they were playing on their home court. The top-seeded Blue Jays had done their homework.
“We felt really good. We scouted out Sparta pretty well and we felt great about tonight,” senior Abbi Vanzant said. “So I think the outcome was amazing.
The hard work paid off. Clever swept Sparta 25-15, 25-14, 25-19 to win their first district title since 2017. That match was also played on Clever’s home court.
“We’d been changing our offensive systems and coming in and working extra on timing and connections with our hitters,” Clever coach Angie Wise said. “And technique. We’ve been focused on what we’d been doing wrong. We’ve studied our technique, focused a little bit and worked one-on-one with the kids.”
The Blue Jays were dominant in stretches, including a 10-4 run to close out the first set. Freshman Jillienne Price served eight straight points to help Clever race ahead 9-1 in the second set. Senior Brandi Riley later had a 5-0 run of her own to give the Blue Jays a comfortable 20-5 lead.
But Sparta didn’t fold. The Trojans made a late run behind points at the net from Megan Brown and Baylee Williams to get as close as 24-14, but a kill by Kylie Wenger closed out the set for the Blue Jays.
“We were a lot more consistent tonight, and that’s our goal,” Wise said. “We want to get more consistent every game. … Our hitting was a lot better tonight. We’d been struggling, but it was nice, consistent hitting.”
The third set was pretty similar. Four service points from Vanzant and six from Riley staked Clever to a 16-5 lead before Sparta rallied again.
An 8-2 run, including six straight serves by Hailey Bumgarner, got the Trojans as close as 18-13, but they couldn’t get over the hump. Riley and Kenna Wise came up with kills to put Clever on the brink and one final spike by Wise ended the match.
“It feels amazing. It’s nothing I’ve really participated in before and it just feels great,” Vanzant said. “I’m so happy right now. It’s my last year and I really want to go all out. We’re going game-by-game. We don’t want to look ahead too far. … Our chemistry is great, we all get along really well. It’s a good team.”
And it’s been a good team to coach.
“I’m really proud of how they come together and play together as a team,” Wise said. “They really gelled. They’ve having fun and being successful and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Clever (22-9-1) travels to Miller this Saturday, Halloween, for their Class 2 Sectional. Clever and the host Cardinals will be joined by Sarcoxie and Skyline at the sectional.
“This is sweet,” Wise said. “We wanted a rematch with Miller. We wanted to see them. It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun. We’re happy to get this far and we’re going to pursue it as far as we can go.”