ADVANCE, Mo. -- After three tries, Bell City's volleyball team finally beat rival Advance in the district finals.
Now, after two dramatic wins Saturday at the Advance sectional, the Cubs are three matches away from a chance to play for the Class 1 state title.
Bell City will make its first trip to the state final four in Warrensburg since winning a state title in 1996 in its only other appearance. The Cubs will play Friday.
"We worked hard all season, and this is something we wrote on a piece of paper as a goal at the beginning of the season," senior setter Whitney Abner said.
The Cubs clinched their final four berth by beating Gideon 25-15, 23-25, 25-17 in the sectional round and then outlasting Bismarck 25-23, 26-24 in the quarterfinal.
With only a little more than a half hour to recover from its three-game sectional win, Bell City (23-9) had to dig deep to find the energy to win a match that had few uncontested points.
"They really pulled together as a team," Bell City coach Erin Hoffman said. "They didn't worry about being tired, they didn't worry about the injuries; they just played."
In the first game of the quarterfinal, neither team led by more than four points. Early in the game Bismarck (32-2-1) senior Cassidy Wisdom took it to the Cubs, getting kill after kill from her outside hitter position. Bell City fought back with the help of a strong defensive effort. After the Cubs had controlled Wisdom's hitting ability, they went on the offensive themselves.
Bell City got a couple of kills from sophomore Andreia Wondel and made a brief run out of a timeout to take their biggest lead of the game, 22-18. Bismarck tied the game at 22 and 23, but Sophia Camara put the game away with a kill.
"Every point was a battle," Abner said.
As was the case in Bell City's previous two matches, the Cubs got behind early in the second game. Despite a couple of comebacks, Bell City was down as much as 17-10 in the second game.
"That's been the way we've done it," Hoffman said. "It seems like we always win the first game, lose the second game and then win the third game."
When the Cubs called a timeout down 20-12, it looked like the crowd at Advance High School would be in for its third three-game match of the day. But out of the timeout the Cubs scored five of the next seven points and forced Bismarck to take a timeout.
"When we got a sideout, we wanted to take it and go with it," Bell City junior Katie Niemczyk said.
The Indians could not contain Bell City's momentum out of the timeout, and with kills from Emily Burch and Abner and an ace by Wondel, the Cubs were down 22-20. Burch had another big kill a few points later, and the Cubs continued to roll all the way to a 24-22 lead.
Hoffman said her seniors made the comeback happen.
"That was the leadership of the seniors," she said. "They wanted it and they made the rest of the team want it too."
Bismarck saved the first game point and tied the score at 24, but Burch and Camara hit back-to-back kills to give the Cubs the match.
Niemczyk came up big for the Cubs in the quarterfinal match with 25 digs and five kills. Camara added nine kills and Sarah Metcalf had 16 digs and four kills.
"I knew from the time districts happened we were on a roll," Niemczyk said.
Bell City will be joined in Warrensburg by Eminence, Lockwood and Crest Ridge. The teams will play round-robin games Friday with the championship and third-place games Saturday.
"That was one of our goals and one of our dreams," Hoffman said of making the final four. "I think we've had a really up-and-down season, so we pretty much just take it one game to the next."
In the other sectional match at Advance, defending Class 1 state champion Leopold (23-6) lost to Bismarck 25-19, 21-25, 25-16. Amber Nenninger led the Wildcats with nine kills and four blocks. Tasha Thele added eight kills and 12 digs. Lori VanderMierden and Melissa Stroder had six kills apiece and Wendy Vandeven had 28 assists.
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