By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Sometimes dads say wise things. Nixa’s Jaycee Fixsen recalled this bit of wisdom from her father.
“My dad used to say, ‘It’s hard to get to the top, but it’s harder to stay there. I think about that and I’m so proud of how we’re proving ourselves more and more.”
Fixsen and the Eagles, playing at home, proved they’re still on top of the mountain with a thrilling 25-22, 16-25, 25-16, 25-22 win over second-seeded Kickapoo in the Class 5 District 11 championship game. It’s Nixa’s second straight district title and it keeps their dreams of back-to-back state championships alive.
“As the year has gone on and we have progressed as a team, the fact that they knew they had to keep progressing and, even if we were getting a few wins early, not be satisfied was huge,” Nixa coach Annie Zimmerman said. “We knew challenges were going to come. All the teams in our area are really tough. Postseason play in our district is really tough. Mentally they had prepared themselves for that a long time ago and did a great job of working towards that growth mindset.”
Growth was needed after Kickapoo dominated the second set. Melanie Cox staked Kickapoo to an early lead, serving four straight points, including three kills from Lauryn Farish. Nixa never could get any traction as KHS slowly pulled away for the 25-16 win. But Eagles setter Sydney Golden helped rally the team between sets.
“I was telling them we need to go all out for everything and not give up,” she said. “We want to get as far as we can, so if we give everything we have right now we’re going to get the results that we want.”
Nixa, the top seed in District 11, went all out to win the third set, racing ahead 9-2 and never looking back. The Eagles capitalized on several Kickapoo errors early in the set, then got kills from Fixsen, Allie Billmyer and Norah Clark to close out the 25-16 win and take a 2-1 advantage.
“We talked about the things we had to do on our side of the court that we weren’t getting done in that second set,” Zimmerman said. “When (Kickapoo) went on their runs, we were doing some things that were uncharacteristic. We had to get back to our game plan and the way we want to play the game and not let them dictate so much. We started that third set with a little run and that gave them some confidence.”
It also set up a dramatic fourth set. Kickapoo led 5-1 early, getting kills from Cox and Farish, but couldn’t expand the lead any further. Nixa chipped away at the deficit and, with Taylor Golmen serving, went on a 6-0 run to take an 11-10 edge, the first lead of the set for the Eagles.
It was back-and-forth from there. The teams were tied nine times down the stretch, including 22-all after a kill from Clark. A second straight kill from the junior gave Nixa just its second lead of the set, and back-to-back hammers by Golmen and Fixsen clinched the championship.
“This team has the ability to come together when things aren’t necessarily going well and stay calm in those moments,” Zimmerman said. “We had our moments when we got kind of flustered, but we were able to get that under control really quickly. I’ve got some great leadership out on the court and people came through and made big plays in big moments. That was huge for us.”
Nixa now has the privilege of hosting the Class 5 Sectional and Quarterfinal Oct. 31. The field for that tournament isn’t officially set. Lee’s Summit West has punched its ticket as District 12 champions, but Districts 9 and 10 play their finals Oct. 29. No. 1 Helias Catholic plays No. 2 Jefferson City in the District 9 championship, while No. 1 Lebanon faces No. 3 Central in the District 10 finals.
No matter who joins them at NHS this weekend, the Eagles are thrilled to still be chasing a state championship on their home court.
“I’m so excited for that,” Fixsen said. “I feel really confident with our atmosphere here. We know that we have supporters all around us no matter what, so knowing they have our back makes us push harder.”