By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When Dan Evans became Springfield Catholic’s head volleyball coach back in February, he set a lofty goal for his new team.
“My goal was to win a district championship – we put (that message) on the big screen,” he said.
Emme Ast, who would be a senior in the fall, liked what she heard.
“We thought it was possible, because we were coming off a really good season, too,” Ast said. “I told our (former) coach after we lost in districts last year, ‘We’ll get ‘em next year.’”
Wednesday night, the Fightin’ Irish finally got ‘em.
Catholic bounced back from a first-set loss on its home court to defeat Reeds Spring 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-14) in the Class 3 District 11 Tournament championship game.
It’s Catholic’s first district title in 20 years.
“We’ve come so far the past four years, from having different coaches each year and not knowing what to expect,” Ast said. “As a senior, it feels really good. We’re all super excited.”
The Irish host a Class 3 sectional/quarterfinal pod on Saturday.
Catholic plays the winner of District 9 (Eldon or Osage), while Mt. Vernon plays Mountain View Liberty. The winners play later in the day with a trip to the Class 3 final four on the line.
Catholic took control of the match on Wednesday night with its array of power hitters and servers.
Sophomore Grace O’Reilly led a balanced Springfield Catholic lineup with 16 kills. Hallie Cook finished with 14 kills and Cherie Sabini added nine kills.
Evans used a baseball analogy to describe how the Fightin’ Irish play.
“It’s kind of like baseball. We hit a lot of homeruns and we strike out quite a bit,” Evans said. “But so did Mickey Mantle and some of those great hitters. The great thing about this bunch is, I just try to get them out there and keep them calm. They’re great volleyball players and a pleasure to be around.”
Reeds Spring coach Molly Illum said her team prefers to play like Catholic.
“Usually that (power hitting) plays into our strength. We like power to power,” she said. “The teams we’ve struggled with this year are real scrappy and stay with us. We’ve enjoyed playing Catholic – but, yes, they have big blockers and hitters.”
The Wolves played Catholic to a five-set loss in the regular season, although the Irish were without two players in their normal rotation.
Like the regular season meeting, Reeds Spring again took the first set on Wednesday night.
“Our game is a power game, so we just had to keep being aggressive,” Evans said. “But that all starts with good passing. In that first set, we didn’t pass very well which affects your setting and hitting. We finally calmed down and got some good passes.”
Catholic rebounded in the second set, pulling away after Reeds Spring drew within 15-14. The Irish jumped out to sizeable leads (10-2 and 13-3) in the final two sets to cruise to victory.
“We were playing really, really well in that first set – almost flawlessly – and it’s hard to maintain that,” Illum said. “In the second set, the bottom started dropping out a bit.”
O’Reilly added five aces, including four straight during the match-clinching fourth set.
Reeds Spring finishes 12-9-2 overall.
Catholic, now 31-2-1 overall, broke the previous program record for most wins in a season (27) last week.
Kills: Isabella Fuller 16
Assists: Amarah Porter 29
Digs: Amarah Porter 21
Aces: Four players with one ace
Kills: Grace O’Reilly 16, Hallie Cook 14, Cherie Sabini 9,
Assists: Emme Ast 16, Rylie Jeffers 9
Digs: Emme Ast 14, Rylie Jeffers 10, Kaitlyn Witthar 10
Aces: Grace O’Reilly 5, Hallie Cook 4
Blocks: Grace O’Reilly 3, Cherie Sabini 1, Ashlyn Witthar 1