Perryville to play for third at volleyball final four

Friday, November 2, 2012 ~ Updated 11:25 PM
Perryville's Natalie Gremaud lunges for a dig during the Pirates' 25-20, 25-21 loss to Pleasant Hill on Friday at the Show Me Center.

Class 3 final four play did not start or end well for the Perryville volleyball team on Friday.

In between the Pirates handed the No. 1-ranked team in the state its only loss of the day and swept last season's state runner-up, but that wasn't enough to reserve them a spot in the state championship match.

"It's tough because you've got two teams that wanted to play for a state championship, and now they've got to play for third and fourth," Perryville coach Dave Mirly said. "We didn't really talk about tomorrow because I know these girls are going to bounce back. They're so competitive that I'm not worried about it. We'll talk about it tomorrow."

Perryville will face St. Pius X of Kansas City, which finished second in Class 3 a year ago, at noon Saturday at the Show Me Center. The Pirates swept St. Pius 25-19, 25-22 during pool play Friday.

"Our passing has to be a little bit better," Mirly said of the third-place game. "They run some quick stuff. They were actually the quickest team that we faced out of the middle. As the game progressed we started catching up to the middles and had several kill blocks. Alex [Spears] caught up to it and Natalie [Gremaud]did, too, so we're ready for that. We've still got to go out there and catch up to it, but we are ready for that, so that will help us out a lot."

Gremaud lead Perryville with 14 kills against St. Pius. Spears, a sophomore middle blocker, had four kills on just seven attempts.

Spears was almost as efficient in Perryville's 16-25, 25-21 split with top-ranked Westminster Christian Academy to start the day. She had six kills on just 11 attempts.

"Before the district game I sent her a long text message," said Gremaud, a senior captain who will leave Perryville as its all-time leader in kills. "And I said, Alex, you are better than I was as a sophomore. 'You are ten times better as a sophomore' is exactly what I told her, and I said I want you to show it and I want you to be the confident Alex that I know you are, and ever since then she's just taken off, gotten so much better.

"I don't know if I had something to do with it or if something clicked in her head. She's just been playing awesome, and I couldn't ask for more to come out of her. She's awesome."

Perryville's first-ever match at the final four did not start well. The Pirates never held a lead in the opening game against Westminster.

"They were so tall that we were a little intimidated," Mirly said. "I thought Notre Dame would be the tallest team we faced this year, but Westminster was huge. Our team got a little rattled out there, which is something we hadn't been -- rattled -- all year long."

Westminster has five players on its roster listed as 6-feet or taller, including 6-2 junior Hannah Stipanovich, who finished with 12 kills in the match, and 6-3 senior Erin Bognar, who finished with 10 kills.

Mirly said he told his team to focus on basics before the match started but changed his message after the opening loss.

"They kind of took us out of our realm a little bit, and made it so hard that we kind of cracked a little bit. So to start the second game and I told them, 'We've got to go a little deeper here. We've got to go to our core, which is our attitude. We need to believe in each other, we need to do our part out there.'"

The Pirates rebounded to hand Westminster its only loss of the day in Game 2.

"We ran a really quick offense in the second game, more so than we did the first game, so that helped," Gremaud said. "You know, sometimes being bigger makes them slower, so if we ran a quicker offense we knew we could probably catch them off guard a couple times, which helped a lot."

Perryville entered its final match of the day against Pleasant Hill knowing it needed to win just one game to secure a spot in the title match, but the Pirates fell 25-20, 25-21.

"We were aware, but I think that hurt us in the end because we only had to win one set, and couldn't pull that off," Gremaud said. "I think knowing that we're like, 'Well if we lose the first set it'll be OK because we'll win the second set.' And that just -- you can't do that against a good team in Pleasant Hill."

Pleasant Hill, which finished fourth in Class 3 a season ago, found success setting its middle hitters early and forced Perryville to make an adjustment.

"At first we just said that we were going to single block and we just needed our defense needed to be on spot with where they were hitting," Perryville senior Lauren Buxton said. "We just weren't able to get there, so then we changed it up to a double block and we started getting more touches. They were just coming down so hard."

Perryville trailed 22-14 in Game 2 before it rallied to within 23-20. Spears had three kills and a block during the rally and finished with eight kills in the match. Gremaud led the team with 10 kills and nine digs, which is the same number libero Libbi Schnurbusch finished with.

"Pleasant Hill played great against us," Mirly said. "They didn't make many mistakes. Their passing was phenomenal, their serve receive was phenomenal. We just found a way to battle and made a game at the end, but I really thought Pleasant Hill played a tremendous game. They were ready for everything we threw at them. They made us work hard for every single point. They were a very good team. You could tell they were 33-1 and had been here before last year."

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