By Nolan Epstein
Republic, Mo. [OzarksSportsZone.com] — Sometimes timing is everything in the world of sports, and the Republic Tigers might be getting hot at just the right time – making quick work of Branson (25-23, 25-19) and marching to their third consecutive win on Tuesday.
The sweep of the Lady Pirates (9-12-3) was made even more impressive by the fact that Republic (15-8) had to face a quick turnaround after edging a feisty Central club on the road one night earlier – forcing the Lady Tigers to dig deep and muster a little extra toughness.
According to their head coach, they came up with just enough.
“It’s not quite as intense as I’ve seen it and I think that we could have had a little more energy,” Republic head coach Piper Wright said after the victory. “But I am proud of the fact that we didn’t just lay down and have no energy.”
A quick start proved to be key for Wright’s team as Republic jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the first set and never looked back. A late Branson rally cut the deficit to one at 24-23 after the Lady Tigers enjoyed a lead that swelled to as much as five points, but a statement spike by Lexi Long ended the set and put momentum clearly in Republic’s favor.
“Any time you can get momentum on your side, it’s crucial to the game of volleyball,” said Wright. “Most of the time for the people that have the momentum, it’s a lot easier to win.”
The Lady Pirates managed to find a bit of a rhythm in the second set and held a 10-7 advantage in hopes of extending the match, but a slew of unforced errors by Branson ultimately led to an 18-9 run by Republic to end the set and left Branson coach Becky Lipasek scratching her head.
“We hit a lot of balls out of bounds and into the net,” said Lipasek. “I had one player who really hit a good percentage tonight and we need more than one player to do that.”
That one player was junior Margie Gronke, who collected eight kills to lead the way for Branson. Sophomore Lauren O’Hara tallied a team-high nine kills for the Lady Tigers, while junior Eryn Russell came away with 14 digs in the solid team effort.
“That’s something that is a strength for us,” added Wright in reference to her team’s ability to play well together. “We don’t have just one crazy huge attacker or one crazy huge blocker. We don’t have anybody huge, so we try to spread out our offense and our defense as much as possible. I think that’s an important part of our success.”
Republic’s strength equated to a glaring weakness for Branson, which has been looking for balance on the stat sheet all season.
“We have not had enough moments when we’ve had multiple kids putting up good numbers,” Lipaseck said. “We’ve got to get them all on the same page at the same time, and clicking all together.”
Republic will look to extend its winning streak to four when it faces Carthage on Thursday at home. Branson aims to get back on track when it hosts Willard, also on Thursday.