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Advance volleyball team squeaks past St. Vincent, wins district title
ADVANCE, Mo. -- Aimie Simmers said she didn't think she could do what she did Tuesday night.
But the Advance senior was certain about what she could not do.
"I don't know," Simmers said. "I just could not lose. I could not lose. This is my last year, and I could not lose [the] district championship. And if all it helped was to block, I would do it."
Simmers combined with teammate Allie Below to record three consecutive stuff blocks on game point, then stuffed another ball solo in the middle to help propel the Hornets to a 26-24, 28-26 win over St. Vincent in the Class 1 District 4 championship match.
"That is like one of the most exciting feelings you can ever have, especially after having four or five of them in a row," Simmers said. "That was the best feeling I've ever had all year."
Advance (26-4-1) trailed 24-21 in Game 1 when St. Vincent ran a play that attacked an Advance weakness and that worked well throughout the match.
A St. Vincent player made an excellent pass before the setter lofted a high, outside set to senior Monika Smith.
The majority of the night, that play resulted in a kill.
"I don't want to go into our weaknesses, but that's our weakness," Advance coach Dana Below said about high outside sets. "We don't have a block on that. The only way I could fix it was to move a few players, but we just don't have the height up there."
But for three points in a row, when it mattered most, the play ended with Simmers and Below celebrating a block.
"My hitter may have gotten tight," St. Vincent coach Tim Haffner said. "I don't know. She kept swinging away, which I was happy to see. I'd been stressing all season to be aggressive and not to tip, so I was happy that she didn't resort to that."
Simmers moved to the middle for the final block, which she handled unassisted.
"I have not seen that," Below said. "I've seen two, maybe three, but four at a crucial moment? It was amazing."
A St. Vincent hitting error capped Advance's long Game 1 comeback. St. Vincent jumped ahead 8-1 at the start of the match, prompting Below to call a timeout.
"They came out of the gates, and I think the main thing was that they believed they could take it to this team," Haffner said. "All the credit in the world to Advance. Even when they were down in both games, they still believed. They still continued to fight hard."
Below said she didn't panic when her team fell behind because it has made comebacks a habit this season.
"We were like, ‘We are not going to get down and let this take us down. We're going to come back up. We're not ending this way. No, it's not happening. We're coming back,'" Advance senior Liza Gray said.
St. Vincent led for much of Game 2 as well. The Indians held a 15-10 lead before a missed St. Vincent serve and four consecutive points for Advance on Simmers' serve, including one ace, brought the teams even.
"I'm super proud of them," Haffner said about his team's rebound from Game 1's heartbreaking end. "I couldn't have asked for anything more. They didn't leave anything on the court. They gave me all they had, so I couldn't ask for anything more."
The Indians had four game points in Game 2 as well, but could not convert. Eventually Gray closed the match with a kill from the outside.
"It feels so great because we've been working so long for this," Gray said. "It feels so great."
Advance was led on offense by Haley Kennison's seven kills. The senior had just two errors in 19 attempts. Gray finished with five kills.
Simmers finished with eight blocks, while Allie Below had three blocks and 16 assists.
The Hornets will play Lesterville in the Class 1 sectional round Saturday. The winner of that match will play the winner of the Bernie-Gideon match for the right to play in the Class 1 final four, which will be held at the Show Me Center.
"It feels great," Dana Below said." We haven't gotten first in any tournament this year, so it feels good here at the end when it's most important -- we come through. We usually do the opposite. We usually start out great then kind of fizzle, but this year we're coming on at the right time so that's good."
Simmers said she is hoping for a rematch with Bernie on Saturday. Advance beat the Mules in a regular-season match but lost to them in the SCAA tournament championship. The rivalry between the girls playing for each school dates back to junior high.
"Oh yeah," answered Simmers when asked if she wanted to face Bernie. "It's our turn. We're beating them this time."