By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
According to Webb City volleyball coach Rhonda Lawrence, her team was definitely the underdog coming into Monday’s Class 4 District 12 finals at Carl Junction.
The Cardinals were seeded second in the bracket and facing a top-seeded Bulldogs team that had won the regular-season contest in three sets.
But in the third straight year the two teams faced off with a district championship on the line, Lawrence’s Cardinals jumped out to a 2-0 advantage and then held on in five sets for the upset.
“I don’t think anybody is going to believe that it says Webb City instead of them,” Lawrence said.
Webb City, 19-12-2, set the tone early. The Cardinals stayed within three points throughout a back-and-forth first set that was tied at 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26. A block by senior Makenzie Storm finished Carl Junction off, 28-26.
The second set was tied nine different times, the last time at 15-15, before Webb City went on a 10-0 run to win it. Kills by junior Brenda Lawrence and sophomore Aubree Lassiter pushed Carl Junction to the brink, and the Bulldogs hit it into the net on the final two points.
“That first set is like a monkey off your back,” Lawrence said. “That helps, you’ve got the momentum and the second one I thought was huge. I told them they are not going to lay down, they are used to this. They’ve come back and reverse sweeped before.”
It was a fair warning. Carl Junction, 24-11, jumped out to an 11-8 lead in the third set following a kill by sophomore Kylie Scott. Two kills by junior Destiny Buerge and a third by freshman Karissa Chase kept the Bulldogs ahead by three, and a block made it 17-13 moments later.
Webb City battled back and tied it at 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22, but Carl Junction kept the pressure on. A kill by Buerge made it 23-22 and a tip by sophomore Aubreigh Fowler gave Carl Junction the 25-23 win.
The Bulldogs only trailed briefly in set four when Webb City pulled ahead 14-13. A service error tied it up, then a Chase kill gave Carl Junction a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. An ace by junior Lo Jones gave the team a three-point lead, and when Buerge connected on a kill minutes later it was 20-15. Buerge followed it up with two aces and Carl Junction forced a deciding fifth set with a 25-20 win.
“They knew in the fifth set you’ve got to go fast,” Lawrence said. “That 15 points goes so quick. I said we’re just going for the first five, then we’re going for the 10, then you go for the next five and we’re done. We had to really try to break down each section of the game and I think that works for us.”
The strategy paid off, with Webb City taking an early 5-3 lead thanks to three kills by Lawrence. The Cardinals led 10-7 after back-to-back points from senior Kearston Galardo, and a tip by sophomore Aubree Lassiter and two kills by Lawrence made it 13-8. A shot into the net put Carl Junction on the brink of elimination, and when the Bulldogs couldn’t corral a Webb City shot right after it was over, 15-10.
“We see these guys a lot and we had really tried to break down some things and make some adjustments in our offense to help us score better,” Lawrence said. “A lot of times we were giving away points and then the third set, fourth set we gave away too many points. You can’t give a great team points.”
“I really felt like we played strategically very smart,” she said. “Broke down and we went after things that a lot of people haven’t quite found on them. It’s just a great match.”
Webb City was led by 15 kills from both Lawrence and Galardo. Galardo added four aces and eight digs. Kyah Sanborn had 41 assists and 14 digs and Kate Brownfield had nine kills and nine digs.
“I thought we played really tight and under a lot of pressure, especially in the first two sets,” Carl Junction coach Cheryl Sharples said. “Made a lot of errors, some young errors, but they forced us into some situations and we didn’t handle it real well.”
Buerge led Carl Junction with 21 kills and 17 digs. Scott added 14 kills, Chase had eight kills and five blocks, Jones added 46 assists and Ellie Lawson served up five aces.
Webb City will play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at either Willard or Logan-Rogersville, who will meet Tuesday night for the District 11 championship.