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Leopold volleyball team rallies to claim district crown
The Wildcats defeated Advance in three games to win the Class 1 District 3 title
ZALMA, Mo. -- Leopold didn't get down when it dropped the first game Tuesday night.
The Wildcats simply became more determined.
"I think that pumped us up even more," Leopold senior Ashley Keim said. "We have the heart for it."
Top-seeded Leopold also has its 10th consecutive district volleyball title after a 25-27, 25-16, 25-11 win over second-seeded Advance in the finals of the Class 1 District 3 tournament at Zalma High School.
"Coach tells us we don't want to be the next team to lose the district championship. We've had it for so long," Keim said.
The Wildcats (18-11) moved on to Saturday's four-team sectional/quarterfinal at Bernie High School.
"This group, they have worked so hard. We lost so much [to graduation] from last year," said eighth-year coach Sandy Davis, a former Leopold and Southeast Missouri State standout. "We lost several matches throughout the season, but they never gave up.
"They work so well together. They have goals they want to achieve. This was one of them."
A young Leopold team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores knew it would be in for a battle against an equally young Advance squad that is dominated by sophomores and juniors.
The Wildcats and Hornets (17-13) met three times during the regular season. Advance won the first before Leopold captured the final two.
"They're one of our biggest competitors," Keim said.
A back-and-forth first game featured five lead changes and nine ties. Leopold had three game points before Advance scored the final three points to pull out the 27-25 victory.
"The first game they just didn't finish it," Davis said. "But they can turn it on."
Turn it on the Wildcats did, although not before at least one of their top players had to shake off some nerves.
"I don't know if the team was [nervous], but I was freaking out," sophomore Denai Arnzen said about the first-game loss. "She [Davis] said now you guys lost, you have to play your butts off."
Leopold scored the first three points of the second game and never looked back, building a 10-point advantage before coasting to a 25-16 victory.
The third game was even more lopsided, 25-11. The Wildcats again never trailed.
"We just played our hearts out after the first game," Leopold freshman Caitlin Petty said. "We wanted it really bad."
Keim got on a roll in the deciding game. She hammered home five kills during a 7-1 run that turned a 9-5 lead into a 16-6 bulge. Advance never recovered.
"When I get pumped up, it seems like I can do anything," Keim said with a smile.
Petty had a huge match with 16 kills, 16 assists, 11 digs and four blocks.
"We have a young group," Petty said. "We just wanted to play well for our seniors."
Keim was second on the Wildcats with eight kills, while Arnzen followed with seven kills and 14 digs.
Senior Emily Elfrink had 10 digs, freshman Leah Landewee added nine digs and sophomore Sydney Eeftink recorded 20 assists.
"Advance is such a good team," Davis said. "We just stuck together and came out strong after the first game."
Junior Liza Gray led Advance in kills with five. Sophomore Allie Below had nine assists and eight digs.
Senior Kelsi Sturgeon added seven digs for the Hornets. Sophomore Grayson Miles recorded five blocks.
"We just lost the momentum," Advance coach Dana Below said. "Mid-second game we got down and couldn't come back. Leopold was on fire when they were hitting."
Leopold and Advance both won their semifinal matches in two games earlier Tuesday, although the Hornets had a much tougher time.
The Wildcats rolled past fifth-seeded Oran (6-16) 25-8, 25-14 behind 10 kills, 11 assists and five digs from Petty.
Keim had six kills, Arnzen added eight digs and Eeftink dished out 11 assists.
Advance held off third-seeded Meadow Heights (20-10) 28-26, 25-16. Gray put down 10 kills.
Junior Aimee Simmers had five kills and three blocks, while Allie Below recorded 20 assists.