Bell City seek third state title

Friday, November 4, 2005

Just two seasons ago Bell City's volleyball team ended a five-year absence from the state playoffs by capturing the program's third district title.

The Cubs turned that district title into a second trip to the state final four and a second state title. Two seasons and two district titles later, Bell City finds itself back in the final four and looking for the program's third state title.

Bell City (29-5-1) begins semifinal pool play at 10 a.m. today against New Haven (28-6-1). The Cubs will also play Winona (27-7-2) and Santa Fe (28-3-2) today in pool play.

While the Cubs have just two players left from their 2003 state championship team, the desire to bring home a state title remains the same.

"Both teams wanted it really bad," Bell City coach Erin Hoffman said. "There's no question the first team didn't have all the skill in the world, but they wanted it so bad. We're kind of the underdogs [this year], no doubt we want it just as bad."

Bell City's starting six this year includes three sophomores, one senior, one junior and a freshman. Senior Andreia Wondel and junior Megan Slagley were the only players among this year's group to see action during the 2003 state title run.

Wondel said despite the team's inexperience they are hungry to win another state title.

"We made it this far. Why get fourth or third or even second," she said. "Go all the way or not at all."

The young Cubs have shown their meddle during the playoffs, surviving two three-game matches at the Advance sectional tournament on Saturday. In both matches Bell City was able to recover from second-game lulls to come out on top.

"It was kind of questionable whether the young kids would be able to handle the pressure," Hoffman said. "But with the help from the older girls on the team we'll be all right."

Bell City's state final four experience, while limited to just two players, is more than that of New Haven, which hasn't been to the final four since 2001. Winona and Santa Fe finished third and fourth in Class 1 last year, respectively. For Winona, this is its sixth straight year in the state final four.

Hoffman said since her team will likely be considered the underdogs there's no reason to play nervous.

"There's really nothing to be scared of, nothing to lose," she said. "Just go play like they've been doing all season."

This year's Cubs have more height than the 2003 team, but Bell City remains one of the smaller teams among the four Class 1 squads. Santa Fe has the tallest girl among the four teams in 6-foot-4 junior Holly Schmidt. Schmidt has more than twice as many kills as anyone on her team with 318. New Haven also has a 6-footer in 6-1 sophomore Kathleen Scheer, who leads her team with 206 kills.

Bell City has one of the more balanced attacks, having four players with more than 100 kills. Rachel Spears, a 5-10 sophomore, led the Cubs with 144 through district play. Slagley had 139, followed by sophomores Jessica Abner (115) and Jenny Lathum (114).

"We don't have that go-to player that if the other team shuts them down we're not any good," Hoffman said. "Pretty much everyone on the floor has the same stats. That would be to our favor, definitely. We can mix it up, keep them guessing."

Freshman Codie Lancaster is Bell City's setter. Lancaster is one of only two projected freshman starters in the Class 1 field. Through district play Lancaster had 573 assists.

Hoffman said like much of her team, Lancaster is not a real vocal leader, but she takes guidance well and is willing to make adjustments.

"She's never been a strong vocal leader, but she's always taken everything I've said to heart and listened to it," Hoffman said. "If ever anything was wrong she would ask."

One thing Bell City opponents have come to expect from the Cubs in Hoffman's three years at the helm has been a defense which rarely lets a ball hit the floor untouched. Bell City has six players with more than 100 digs, led by Spears with more than 300 this season.

"Our defense, it was pretty good," Hoffman said. "We were able to throw in the block threat, which we had not done in the past."

Want to go:

Where: Central Missouri State University Multipurpose Building, Warrensburg, Mo.

Schedule: Today's pool play, Bell City vs. New Haven, 10 a.m.; Santa Fe vs. Winona, 10 a.m.; Bell City vs. Winona, noon; Santa Fe vs. New Haven, noon; Bell City vs. Santa Fe, 2 p.m.; Winona vs. New Haven, 2 p.m.

Saturday, third-place match, 10:30 a.m.; championship, 1:30 p.m.

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