By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Dani Economon (Mostrom) once played for Annie Zimmerman. In 2017, she became an assistant coach under Zimmerman at Nixa High School.
And since last week, she’s temporarily taken Zimmerman’s job title on game days: Head coach of the Nixa varsity volleyball team.
With Zimmerman recovering at home from recent surgery, the Lady Eagles haven’t missed a beat.
Nixa (11-0 overall) kept its perfect record intact on Tuesday night with a 3-0 sweep (25-17, 25-6, 25-23) at Willard in a matchup of local volleyball powers.
Last weekend, Economon coached Nixa to a first-place finish at the Springfield Classic.
“It’s an incredibly fun group to coach,” Economon said. “I think any coach would say that as long as you have kids who are willing to work hard and have fun while doing it, those are two big keys to success. They’re on top of that.”
Economon said Zimmerman watches Nixa’s games on live streams and provides constant feedback.
Economon graduated from Parkview in 2012, where she played her senior season under Zimmerman.
After a stellar 4-year career at Wichita State – she was named Missouri Valley Conference Libero of the Year as a senior – Economon learned about an opening on Nixa’s coaching staff.
“I asked (Zimmerman) if she needed any help. She said, ‘Yes, please,’” Economon said. “I took (the position) and I’ve been at Nixa ever since.”
Nixa seized control early against Willard, jumping out to a 13-6 lead in the first set. The Lady Eagles overwhelmed Willard with a 7-0 surge to begin the second set.
For players like Nixa senior Jaycee Fixsen, the Nixa-Willard matchup provides extra motivation.
Not only are both schools recent state champions, but many of the players have ties dating back to youth leagues.
“For some of us, Willard’s our real rivals. We take everything a lot more personally, I don’t know why,” Fixsen said. “It’s good competition. I feel like every time we play Willard, we leave everything on the floor.
“Us seniors grew up playing club ball with a lot of Willard’s players. Having played together with them so much, it makes it a lot more competitive now.”
Fixsen, who will continue her playing career at Missouri State, was one of three Lady Eagles to finish with eight or more kills on the night.
“Our setter, Sydney Golden, does such a great job,” Fixsen said. “She’s always so good about balancing and being so consistent.”
Golden finished with 40 assists. Allie Billmyer led Nixa with 15 kills. Emma Conrad recorded 33 digs.
Willard came to life in the third set, jumping out to a 6-0 lead. Nixa rallied to tie the set at 13-all, then 20-all before prevailing for good.
“We tried to switch our defense, which seemed to work,” said Willard coach Jamalee Hancock. “Playing catch-up with a team as good as Nixa is never a good idea.
“We weren’t playing our best. Nixa stayed in system, their serve receive was good, so they were running their offense. It made it tough for us.”
Willard (13-3-1 overall), the defending Class 4 state champion, suffered its third loss in four matches. The last five days have been a blur for the Lady Tigers, Hancock said.
Willard had its homecoming on Friday, played five matches in the Camdenton Tournament on Saturday then lost on the road at Lebanon on Monday night.
The Lady Tigers also had their starting middle hitter, sophomore Lily Clark, go down with an injury on Saturday.
“We feel like we’re a little bit fatigued, but you still have to show up and be ready to go,” Hancock said. “It’s just the little things. Nixa’s going to challenge everybody, so we knew we’d have to be at our very best to beat them tonight.”
Willard returns to action next Tuesday at Webb City.
Nixa, which finished as Class 5 state runner-up last year, hosts Carthage on Thursday.
The Lady Eagles haven’t played a home match since Aug. 28, when they beat Fayetteville (Ark.) 3-2 in their regular season opener.
Zimmerman’s expected to resume her in-person coaching duties soon.
“We’re excited to have her back,” Economon said. “Hopefully she’s back either later this week or next week, if she’s ready. We want her to feel good.”
Nixa 3, Willard 0
(25-17, 25-6, 25-23)
Nixa state leaders
Kills: Allie Billmyer 15
Assists Sydney Golden: 40
Digs: Emma Conrad: 33
Blocks Hillary Estes: 2
Aces Maddie Golmen: 3
Willard stat leaders
Kills: Grace Hancock 7
Assists: Paige Gayer: 20
Digs: Kindall Smithson 16
Blocks: Lael Brandon 3
Aces: Smithson 2