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Inconsistency dooms Perryville on first day
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.
Perryville never held a lead in its opening game of the day against top-ranked Westminster before rallying to earn a split 16-25, 25-21.
"Nervousness," said Perryville senior Natalie Gremaud, explaining her team's early play. "And it obviously showed in the first game. We were all tight. We got the jitters out for the second set against Westminster, so the fact that we could bounce back to an awesome team who's so much taller than we are. It shows a lot about our team."
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.
"They were so tall that we were a little intimidated," Mirly said of the first game. "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."
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."
Gremaud led Perryville with 10 kills against Westminster, while sophomore middle blocker Alex Spears had six kills on just 11 attempts.
"We were so excited, but we knew just because we had beaten them or split with them, we couldn't back down," Perryville senior Lauren Buxton said. "We still had to push hard through every other game and just keep pushing all day long because we knew it was going to be hard."
The Pirates swept St. Pius X of Kansas City, which finished second in Class 3 a season ago, 25-19, 25-22 in their second pool-play match.
That meant Perryville entered its final match 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 to be on spot with where they were hitting," Perryville 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."