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Scott City makes quick work of Crystal City, Liberty
PIEDMONT -- Scott City volleyball coach Haley Jennings predictably was emotional after her team swept the Class 2 sectional at Clearwater High School on Saturday.
With two wins, the Rams clinched the program's first trip to the state tournament.
And the day brought a flood of memories back for Jennings, who played on the 1997 Bernie team that won the sectional at Clearwater to advance to state.
"It's just so surreal," said Jennings, a second-year coach in her third year with the program. "It's amazing. I'm getting emotional again thinking about it. For me, as a player when I went, it was just unreal. I'm happy for them that they get to experience it."
The Rams (33-1-3) will get to experience the state tournament as the favorites. They were the state's No. 1-ranked team in the final coaches poll of the regular season, having lost only to Class 4 Lebanon during the B.A. Sports Classic.
"We know teams are going to be after us," Scott City junior Brooke Simpson said. "We knew Crystal City was going to be looking for revenge today because we beat them in their tournament."
Crystal City may have been looking for revenge, but the Hornets got a lot of spiking and blocking from Scott City in a 25-17, 25-18 decision that may have been the day's pivotal match.
The Rams beat Mountain View Liberty 25-10, 25-19 in the quarterfinal round to earn their spot at the state tourney, which will be played in Kansas City this year.
Simpson finished the day with 20 kills, including 11 in the quarterfinal. Six-foot-2 freshman Katie Hogan added 17 kills, including 11 in the opener to go with four blocks.
"Me and Katie are really the only tall girls on the team," said Simpson, 5-11 and a part of three district championship teams so far. "We have a lot of good movement on the floor, we talk a lot, and we play good defense."
As junior Stephanie Essner, a state champion individually in track, put it, "It means a lot for a team to be gelled and playing as one person to go to state."
But don't be fooled. The high regard for Scott City is based primarily on its relentlessly powerful attack.
"They just have really good hitters," Crystal City coach Laura Helwig said. "They do. It's kind of crazy. Some balls that are behind their heads and you don't think they can hit, they just do a great job of attacking the ball.
"It's not the same Scott City team as last year, that's for sure. They have worked hard, and I wish them well at state."
One of the reasons the Rams are different is Hogan. She took over the net late in the first game against Crystal City to propel Scott City on a 10-5 run to close out the game.
Hogan started the run by smashing down a kill on a ball that floated just over the net after she had blocked it. She scored with a dink, had a kill into a Crystal City block, then added a block and two more kills as Scott City claimed a 22-16 advantage and the Rams fans chanted her name.
She added a service ace for good measure, and Simpson closed out the match with a tip that fell into the Hornets' defense.
"You've got to put it all out there," Hogan said of her dominant run. "If you want to get to state, you've got to play hard."
Scott City, which had to hold off Crystal City 25-13, 28-26 in the meeting earlier this year, struggled early in the second game before putting together an 8-1 streak to finish the match.
The turning point may have been Essner tying her shoe to slow down the match after consecutive service errors had allowed the Hornets to tie it, 17-17.
"My shoe was perfectly fine," Essner said. "I just wanted to calm the girls down and take a breath without taking a timeout."
Simpson and Hogan had back-to-back kills, and Anna Laitinen and Hogan each had two more kills before the Hornets stopped the bleeding. It was too late. Hogan closed out the match with a smash from the left side.
"I told them our offense is the key," Jennings said. "We've got three hitters on the front row all the time and we hit to kill every time."
Actually, with no libero and either Simpson or Hogan in the back row, Scott City has more weapons than that.
"We have three hitters on the front row and one on the back row all the time," Hogan said.
That means defensive chores for the hitters, which they handled well Saturday. Hogan had 11 digs against Crystal City, while Laitinen had 13, Simpson had nine and Essner had eight.
Setters Jordan McFall and Katie Diebold each had 16 assists.
The Rams breezed through the first game against Liberty, rattling off seven straight points on McFall's serve to build a 20-8 lead. McFall finished with three aces, six digs and 13 assists in the match.
In the second game, the teams stayed within two points of each other much of the way, with Scott City not claiming its first lead until 14-13. The Rams fell behind 19-18 on consecutive attacking errors, but then scored the final seven points. McFall had her third ace, and Simpson had two kills before closing the match with a block.
Hogan had 10 digs, Laitinen and Simpson each had eight.
"We've talked about state all year," Essner said. "We've got a great team with great hitters and great athletic ability. We worked so hard."
Jennings agreed with Helwig's assessment on the Scott City team being improved.
"It's just because they work better together," she said. "They all want the same thing."
Jennings, whose Bernie team finished second in the state in 1997, has confidence going into the state field in Kansas City. The event includes three matches in round-robin play Friday to determine pairings for the final matches Saturday. Scott City will be joined by Hermann (27-8-2), No. 4 in the coaches poll; Ash Grove (25-5-4) and Cole Camp (20-10-5).
"We've played well in tournaments," she said, mentioning the Crystal City and Arkansas State Playday titles along with the Silver Bracket win at the B.A. Sports Classic. "We've done a lot of conditioning in the summer so they don't wear down during tournaments.
"I know we have the ability. We have to have the want and come out ready to play."