Cubs dig up state appearance

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Bell City's Rachel Spears dived for a Bismarck spike during the first game of Saturday's Class 1 quarterfinal match at Bell City High School. (Don Frazier)

By JEREMY JOFFRAY

Southeast Missourian

It was only fitting in a Class 1 quarterfinal match where all six Bell City starters reached double digits in digs, the Cubs were able to close out a tight three-game match Saturday against Bismarck with a block.

Rachel Spears stuffed the Bismarck kill attempt and sent the host Cubs into their third state final four in four years with a 25-23, 22-25, 25-23 victory.

"It was nice to end the game on that," Bell City coach Erin Hoffman said. "Bismarck's a very good team, and we didn't have many blocks [against them]. It was kind of ironic we ended it on a block."

Bell City (34-1) will begin round-robin play at the state final four at 9 a.m. Friday in Warrensburg, Mo.

This is the third state final four trip for the Cubs in four years, including a third-place finish last year.

"Going through all the pressure situations last year, we were prepared for this year," Hoffman said.

The match was a nail-biter through and through. All three games saw the teams tied at 22-22, and in two of the three games both teams were tied at 23-23.

Bell City's trademark defense proved to be the difference. Sophomore setter Codie Lancaster led the Cubs with 24 digs.

One of the biggest digs of the match came from senior libero Mandi Lee. Lee somehow scooped a certain kill from the ground with the score knotted at 22-22, and Spears helped Bell City take the lead with a stuff-block.

After the Cubs' hitting error tied the score 23-23, a net call gave Bell City match point and Spears followed with the block.

"If we would have had a little more offense, we probably wouldn't have needed to play so much defense, but it's a good thing we can play defense because it really saved us," Hoffman said.

Every Bell City player who took the court got good use of their knee pads. Bismarck (30-4-2), despite having the size advantage with a pair of 6-foot hitters, rarely got a clean kill.

Jenny Lathum added 20 digs, Spears had 16 digs, Megan Slagley had 14 digs and Jessica Abner and Emilie Stephens had 13 digs apiece.

"You just hustle your butt off when you're going for the ball," Stephens said of the digs.

Bell City came into the quarterfinal having cruised by Holcomb 25-21, 25-11 in the sectional. The Cubs were barely challenged in the match, leading by at least 11 points in both games. Holcomb's late comeback in the first game provided the only tight moments in a 45-minute match.

The Cubs went ahead early in the opening game of the quarterfinal and spread their lead out to as much as 15-9 and 19-13. Bismarck proved to be a much tougher out for the Cubs, and never trailed by more than five points the rest of the match.

"This is probably the hardest game we've had to get to state the last four years," Hoffman said. "The last hardest match was Bismarck in 2003."

Losing the first game did not faze the Indians. Bismarck was three points away from being swept in the sectional against Leopold, only to rally for a 15-25, 25-22, 25-17 win.

Down 18-14 in the second game against Bell City, Bismarck started to chip away and took only its second lead of the game at 22-21 on a kill from freshman Brooke Taylor, who had scored the three previous points for Bismarck.

Taylor came back with another kill after Bell City had tied the score 22-22, and then served out the match with back-to-back aces for a 25-22 win.

The score was tied 12 times in the third game, which featured five lead changes.

Bell City appeared to finally take control of the game when it opened a 22-18 lead. Taylor had a pair of kills for Bismarck, and Chelsey Politte tied the score 22-22 with a kill before Bell City closed out the match.

"We had to fight for every point that game," Stephens said.

Bell City will try for its third state title and second in four years when play begins Friday at the state final four. Winona, Osceola and Santa Fe will join the Cubs in Warrensburg.

For the Indians, this was the fourth time in five years they have lost in the quarterfinal round.

Wildcats eliminated

Leopold (26-4) looked ready for a quarterfinal rematch with the Cubs before the wheels came off in the second game. The Wildcats cruised to the win in the opening game, scoring 11 of the final 14 points.

In the second game Leopold led 22-19 before Bismarck scored the final six points. In the deciding game Bismarck led big early and never let the Wildcats get into the game.

"It fell apart," Leopold assistant coach Sandy Davis said. "I don't know what happened. But these girls are great. They're a great group of girls and they had a tremendous season. It's heartbreaking for the girls. They worked so hard."

Casey Bucher led the Wildcats with 10 kills and added seven digs in the loss. Cassie Seiler had 29 assists and nine digs; Janice Jansen had seven kills and 17 digs; and Maddy Hutchings had eight kills and 10 blocks.

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