By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — For the first time since 1978, the Central Bulldogs are district champions.
Third-seed Central swept top-seed Lebanon 26-24, 25-23, 25-23, on Thursday night at Parkview High School, claiming its first district title in over 40 years.
“Usually we get put out in the first round,” chuckled Tameya Neal, the Bulldogs’ lone senior. “Winning just feels really good. It feels like we really did something.”
Central (12-13) won just six matches total in the last two seasons. Last year, they had only two victories. But there’s been something different about this year’s team.
“The vibe on the team is definitely different,” Neal said. “We’re more together and have more of a bond. That really helps. We don’t get down on each other.”
That bond was important Thursday, as Central (12-13) had to compete without its head and assistant coaches. Former freshman volleyball coach and current girls basketball coach Caitlin Lamberth was left in charge.
“(Administration) asked me to help out,” she said afterwards. “I was just here to help and clap.”
The Bulldogs trailed early in every set to the favored Yellowjackets. Central fell behind 9-3 and 20-15 in the first set before rallying late. Three consecutive kills from freshman Miliana Sylvester helped close out a first set win.
Lebanon (13-10-1) led 19-17 in the second, only to see Central score five of the next six points and claim the set, 25-23.
In the third, Lebanon built a 16-11 advantage that Central wiped away with five straight points. The Jackets also held a 22-21 lead but couldn’t close out the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t give up,” Neal said. “Every point. No matter what the scoreboard says, we disregarded that and focused on the next point.”
Central will now face Lee’s Summit West (18-6) in the Class 5 sectionals on Halloween. The Titans claimed District 12 on Wednesday night with a 3-0 win over Joplin.
“This gives us a whole lot of motivation,” Neal said. “We really didn’t think it was going to turn out like this where we’d have this opportunity.”