Willard and the Lady Pirates stayed within one point of each other in game one until sophomore Mariah Stewart stepped up her right side attack and scored a series of kills, to help the Lady Tigers widen their lead to 13-10.
Tigers coach Jamalee Hancock knew Branson was ready to play.
“Branson came out ready to play, so we went back and forth in game one. Stewart really stepped up. This has been one of her biggest games,” said Hancock.
Tigers junior Makayla Sanford served a run of scoring that brought the game to 23-10 before the Lady Pirates finally scored again. Sanford served five aces in the two games.
“Volleyball is a game of runs—those momentum runs. Sanford really helped there. Also, our blocking this last week has just come on. We haven’t had to rely on digging,” said Hancock.
The first set ended with a Tigers victory of 25-11.
Branson fought back in the second set, but the Lady Tigers pulled ahead for a lead of 12-6. The Lady Pirates closed the lead after a long volley landed Branson at a score of 18-17.
Willard called a timeout and came back to pull ahead to 24-19. As they tried to nail the game point, the play had to be redone when the referee blew his whistle too early. Undaunted by the drama, the Lady Tigers finished game two with a score of 25-19.
Hancock expressed praise for the Tigers’ steadiness under pressure.
“They’ve worked really hard at maintaining their composure, not getting too rattled, and believing in themselves. Each match, they’ve gotten more confident,” said Hancock.
Willard senior setter Samantha Hendrickson was proud of her teammates.
“I think we all flowed really well. There were hardly any unforced errors. That’s what we’ve been working on all year,” said Hendrickson.
Branson coach Jenny Lotz knew the Pirates could have played with more focus in game one.
“If you look at our second game, we were a lot more aggressive. That’s where the difference was. We had some lapses on our leftside and rightside defense,” said Lotz.
Willard travels to Webb City on October 9. Branson will play against Carthage on October 9.
Willard 2, Branson 0
Tessa Thornton, 9 kills
Mariah Stewart, 8 kills
Makayla Sanford, 5 aces
Samantha Hendrickson, 21 assists
Lauren Boone, 3 kills