Zalma tames Meadow Heights in district volleyball semifinals

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Meadow Heights' Jillian Mills slams the ball past Zalma's Lesta Newberry during Game 1 of their Class 1 District 3 match Monday in Advance, Mo. Check out more photos from the match at semoball.com. (Fred Lynch)

ADVANCE, Mo. -- The Zalma volleyball team set up the match Lorie VanGennip and her teammates have been waiting for with their Class 1 District 3 semifinal win over Meadow Heights on Monday.

The Bulldogs will play No. 1 seed and eight-time defending district champion Leopold tonight.

"Since the season started," Lorie VanGennip replied when asked how long she'd been thinking about the match. "My sister's a senior and I really want to go to state with her her last year."

Lorie VanGennip was a frequent target for her sister, senior setter Torie VanGennip, during a 25-19, 27-25 victory over the Panthers. The younger sister came up with kill after kill, mostly from the outside position, to steady a Zalma offense that struggled at times against the Panthers.

She finished with eight kills, all of which seemed to come at important times in the match, despite playing for the last two weeks with what a trainer has told her is a torn meniscus in her knee.

Zalma's Lesta Newberry, center, and Emily Merick, right, celebrate a point during their Class 1 District 3 match against Meadow Heights on Monday in Advance, Mo. Check out more photos at semoball.com. (Fred Lynch)

"I have no idea where it came from," Lorie VanGennip said. "The last two, three games I played in, I've been in complete pain and I played Bloomfield last Thursday night and after that game my knee was feeling 100 percent better. I don't know what happened, but I woke up the next morning and it was feeling better and it felt great tonight."

Zalma coach Dwyght Ford raved about the sophomore's performance after the match.

"Oh my goodness," he said. "She's playing with a torn meniscus and she was on fire tonight. She was amazing. Words can't describe how I feel about her right now. She was just unbelievable tonight."

Zalma and Meadow Heights exchanged the first 20 points, each winning every other point, before Zalma broke the 10-10 tie with a 7-1 run to take control of the game.

"It was our third time playing them this season and we always know that it's hard to beat a team three times, so it was just nice to come out and play hard," Zalma senior Lesta Newberry said. "We were all focused and we just closed it out in two sets for the first time this season."

Closing out the second game was a far more challenging task. Meadow Heights tied the game 16-16 after trailing for much of the game before the teams once again exchanged points for a long period, this time for 10 points.

"They're scrappy," Ford said of Meadow Heights. "Nothing hits the floor on their side unless we hit it hard and it goes straight down. If it's up in the air, somebody's going after it and they're going to keep it going. They force everybody that they play to play that way and not lay down. It happened to us a couple times tonight. The ball came back over. We thought it was the point, the ball comes back over and just lands."

Zalma grabbed a 24-22 lead only to see Meadow Heights reel off three points in a row to earn a game point. But Lorie VanGennip had an answer, killing the ball on the next two points to earn her team one more match point, which it converted.

Meadow Heights, which finished 19-9, defeated No. 6 seed Oak Ridge to advance to the semifinals. Oak Ridge finished the season 5-17. Kaycie Seyer had three kills and one block, while Stacy Roberts added three kills and two aces for the Bluejays. McKenzie Elam had two kills and a block.

Zalma defeated Marquand 25-3, 25-10 in its quarterfinal match.

The Bulldogs will be face Leopold for a fourth time this season. Zalma has beaten the Wildcats on a neutral court twice -- at the Woodland tournament and the Mississippi Valley Conference tournament -- while it lost at Leopold.

"Neutral court again, so that's in our favor," Ford said. "I graduated from Advance and my daughter is a setter for Advance, and I think we'll have a lot of support here tomorrow night. Not just our fans -- I know we'll have a lot of Zalma people here, but we'll have a lot of Advance people behind us, too."

Heather Dietiker and Whitney Welker both finished with six kills for Meadow Heights, while Zalma's Newberry led all hitters with 10 kills. Torie VanGennip has 17 assists.

"I told the girls after our huddle-up after the game, we saw Heather and Gina crying," Newberry said. "It's their senior year. Their season's over. I said, 'Do we want Leopold to do that to us?'"

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