Missouri's best volleyball teams will battle it out for state championships
Ozark volleyball coach Becky Justis hadn't been inside the Show Me Center in almost a decade before her team's practice Thursday afternoon.
She brought a team to the center's annual high school tournament nine years ago.
This time she brought her team to the final four.
"I was extremely impressed with the facility then," Justis said. "It was amazing how they could run a tournament with that many teams. It was an incredible tournament."
The tournament brought 48 teams from around the region to the Show Me Center in September, but 16 of the best teams from around the state will vie for state championships in four classes starting today.
Ozark is making its third consecutive trip to the Class 4 final four. It won the state title in 2009 and finished third last year at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, an aging facility that forced fans to sit both away and above the court.
"This is new and it just seems nicer," Justis said about the Show Me Center. "It's a big venue, but actually the fans are going to be right by the court, which to them that's probably the most important, and that's extremely important for the players. It's just going to be a real nice intimate facility and setting for the players, and that's most important."
While no teams from the Southeast Missouri region advanced to the final four for the first time since 2004, MSHSAA Communications Director Jason West said the area's reputation when it comes to volleyball success and popularity played a role in bringing the championships to Cape Girardeau for the first time.
"I think it did in the decision making," West said. "We have two board members from Southeast Missouri. We have another one that went to school here, and then our executive director is from Southeast Missouri."
Dr. Kerwin Urhahn, who is from Oran, Mo., is MSHSAA's executive director, while Portageville superintendent Toni Hill and Clearwater superintendent Blane Keel serve on the board of directors.
"They knew the tradition and could talk about that, and that played a big role in when we're talking about community support," West said.
Valle Catholic is the only defending champion to advance to the final four this season. The Warriors won Class 1 last season and will compete against Eminence, Liberal and Santa Fe this season.
Eminence, which is making its third trip to the final four in four seasons, is the only team in the field that played in the SEMO Spike tournament at the Show Me Center in September.
The Class 2 participants are led by undefeated Clever (38-0). St. Pius-Festus, which upset Scott City in the sectional round before knocking out Bloomfield in the quarterfinals, joins St. Paul Lutheran and Fatima.
Class 3 will get a new champion for the first time in five years. O'Hara, which had won four consecutive titles and six of the last eight, was defeated by St. Pius-Kansas City in the sectional round. Pleasant Hill, Villa Duchesne and Lutheran South, which eliminated Perryville, also advanced.
Ozark is joined in Class 4 by Lafayette, Lee's Summit West and Francis Howell.
Classes 1 and 2 pool play begins at 9 a.m. and will continue with matches every hour until 2 p.m. The Class 3 and 4 pool play begins at 3 p.m., with the final matches scheduled for 8 p.m.
The finals begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and continue every 90 minutes until 7:30 p.m.
While there won't be any Southeast Missouri teams on the court, there likely will be some in the stands hoping for a chance next year. The Show Me Center is under contract to host the final four through 2014.
"In the last couple of days, talking with the CVB here in town, they have gotten a lot of calls from teams in the surrounding area that may not have qualified but still want to come to the event and see what it's like that couldn't afford to go to Kansas City," West said. "But now that it's in their backyard, they'd like to still come and see what it's like to be here and hopefully use that as motivation for next year."