Wildcats advance past Hornets to sectional round

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Advance junior Haley Gifford gets a hand on Mackenzie Beel's spike Tuesday during the Class 1 District 3 championship match in Advance, Mo. (Kit Doyle)

LEOPOLD moved on despite an injury to its top hitter

ADVANCE, Mo. -- The white tape on Kirsten Thele's right hand was about the only thing to go wrong for the Leopold volleyball team Tuesday.

The Wildcats captured the Class 1 District 3 title with a 25-11, 25-15 victory against host Advance, but there was a bigger concern.

Thele, Leopold's top hitter, injured her hand during the first game and played sparingly in the second game.

"I went up to tip and the ball came down," she said. "It kind of felt like I broke it the second game. It hurt pretty bad. I hit one with it out there."

Leopold's Kirsten Thele (3) stuffs the ball back onto the Advance side of the net.

Thele still led the Wildcats (25-3) with seven kills, but she wasn't the same after injuring her hand.

"I just tried not to think about it," she said.

Leopold setter Lauren Seiler said she wasn't worried after Thele's injury. But she did change how she set the senior.

"Obviously she's a big part to our team, but we have great hitters so we can do fine," Seiler said. "I was trying to get them where she could just place the ball and not have to use her hand as much so she wouldn't hurt it more."

The Hornets (18-12) had no answer for Thele in the early going. She was responsible for Leopold's first four points of the match. She also served four consecutive points during the first game, a string that started with an ace.

"She's real important," Leopold coach Sandy Davis said of Thele. "She's aggressive. She can hit the ball anywhere. She gives 110 percent when she's out there. She was wanting to do good, and the team feeds off that."

Leopold's serving created problems for the Hornets. When the Wildcats weren't recording aces, Advance struggled with its passing. Senior Whitney Lukefahr helped pace the Wildcats with two aces. Thele also finished with two.

"It was the most amazing feeling in the world because I don't serve," Lukefahr said. "I was so nervous. I was in awe. I was watching my serve instead of playing."

While the Wildcats' serving was giving the Hornets fits, Advance's own serving in the second game led to its downfall. Hornets coach Dana Below said her team only put 59 percent of its serves in play in the second game.

"It's very frustrating because you can't get the momentum," Below said. "We're not a real defensively strong team anyway. If you can't serve over the net, you're on defense.

"We already were down 10 points. The only way we were going to come back was by serving five in a row each time."

Advance had a string of four consecutive serves into the net. Liza Gray's serve into the net on match point was a fitting end.

Davis could empathize with Below's frustration.

"When we make a mistake over and over again and the other team is being dominant and aggressive, it's hard to get out of that," Davis said. "When that happens, I just tell them to keep pushing, keep going forward."

Lukefahr wasn't as sympathetic.

"Whenever they can't serve it over, I feel like they're getting frustrated and don't have much confidence," she said. "I don't feel sorry for them. It makes me happy to see that they're frustrated."

Abby Landewee recorded six kills and Mallory James four for Leopold. Seiler finished with 15 assists and six digs.

Taylor Eggimann led the Hornets with five kills, while Gray added three. Hannah Barr chipped in three blocks.

The Wildcats will travel to Bell City for Saturday's sectional against Lesterville at 3 p.m.

Leopold advanced to the title match with a 25-15, 25-7 win against Saxony Lutheran. The Crusaders' Claire Grebing and Holly Schermann both had seven digs in the match.

Advance defeated Zalma 25-16, 26-24 in the other semifinal.

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