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Young Woodland volleyball squad falls short against Puxico
Kacie Ritter's goal when she took over the Woodland High School volleyball program two years ago was to re-establish the Cardinals as an area power.
Ritter believes the Cardinals are on the right track after they reached Tuesday night's Class 2 District 2 tournament championship match.
The third-seeded Cardinals suffered a 25-17, 25-7 loss to fourth-seeded Puxico in the final at Scott City High School, but that didn't dampen Ritter's enthusiasm.
"Woodland has not experienced a winning season or made it this far in volleyball in a very long time," Ritter said. "I preached to my girls this year about putting Woodland back on the map. The girls believe in it.
"I think this is a good start to put Woodland volleyball back on the map. We made a huge improvement this year."
Ritter became Woodland's coach in 2011 immediately following her senior season on the Southeast Missouri State volleyball team.
The Cardinals improved their win total by two during Ritter's first season that saw them go 6-19.
Woodland finished this year 13-17-1 despite having only two seniors. Ritter brought up four freshmen for the district tournament and put three of them in the starting lineup.
"It's amazing. We haven't done this good in forever," senior Keighlynn Lincoln said. "I'm so proud of the girls. I hope it inspires them all."
Junior Josie Long, a first-team all-tournament selection, said what the Cardinals accomplished by reaching the district final will motivate them to do even better next season.
"I think it will give us a lot of determination to win next year," Long said.
The Cardinals began the final night of the two-day tournament with a bang, upsetting second-seeded Clearwater 20-25, 25-21, 25-22 in the semifinals.
"We lost to them earlier [in the season], but we really played good [tonight]," Lincoln said.
Long had 13 kills against Clearwater (19-9-3). Senior Makenzie Rhodes and freshman Lexie King each added five kills. Freshman Shelby Sawyer served four aces.
That set the stage for the title matchup against Puxico (18-13-1) that carried some interesting subplots.
The teams had split two regular-season meetings and the respective coaches are best of friends, having played club volleyball together under Kacie's father Carl Ritter.
Kacie Ritter was the maid of honor in Puxico coach April Burchard's wedding this spring. Burchard will be the maid of honor in Ritter's wedding Nov. 10.
"I told her it was my wedding year. I should win," Ritter said with a laugh. "But if anybody else was going to win I'm glad it's her."
Puxico never let Woodland up for air. The Indians built a quick 8-1 lead in Game 1 and were not seriously threatened, then scored the first 10 points in Game 2 and romped.
"I believe nerves had a lot to do with it since they had not made it this far in such a long time," Ritter said. "It was a different atmosphere.
"Puxico is very experienced. They have girls who play club volleyball in the offseason, which helps. We have no girls who play club volleyball. I hope this puts the taste in their mouth."
Long again led the Cardinals against Puxico with 11 kills. She added two aces.
"I think the nerves got everybody," Lincoln said.
Junior Emily Merick had eight kills as Puxico won its first district title since 2003, when Burchard played for the squad.
"I'm proud of the girls. They came out strong and played like I knew we could all year," Burchard said. "We knew Woodland had a lot of heart. I love Kacie to death, but I'm glad our team won."
Merick had 10 kills earlier Tuesday in the semifinals as Puxico upset top-seeded Saxony Lutheran 25-18, 25-16.
It was a disappointing end to by far the best season for Saxony's young volleyball program. The Crusaders finished with a 22-13 record.
"It was very rewarding and awesome to get that top seed, but there was a lot of pressure to hold up," Saxony coach Alissa Ernst said. "We knew Puxico was a strong team. It was very upsetting for everyone.
"But to look on the bright side, we had a great season and we'll keep pushing forward."