Sunday, September 29, 2019

Not quite yet, volleyball team misses op to beat STM

Setter Emily Bigger celebrates a point with teammates against St. Thomas More
Emily Bigger celebrates a point for the Spartans in their home match against St. Thomas More last Thursday. Bigger contributed 32 assists in the 2-1 conference loss. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

The atmosphere was electric in the main gym at St. Joseph-Ogden High School where the Spartan volleyball team faced conference rival St. Thomas More last Thursday. After an intense three-set battle, SJO fell in 2-1 decision to the visiting Sabers.

Leading by as many as five points near the mid point of the first set, The Spartans let St. Thomas clawed their way back into the contest to first an 18-all and again later at 21-all. The Spartans then won the next five points in a dominating fashion to take the set, 25-21.

"We knew what to expect because we have been watching film of them," said Lacey Kaiser. The senior contributed eight kills, seven digs and a pair of blocks over the course of the night. "We knew they would come out twice as hard in the second set after we won the first set."

After winning the first point in the second set, it would be the last time Kaiser and the Spartans, despite a monumental effort on their part, would see anything resembling a lead on the scoreboard for the remainder of the match.

"The second set, we really rallied back and fought," Kaiser said. "We haven't really shown that in past games we've played."

Kennedi Burnett, who echoed Kaiser on the team's strides to improved their mental toughness, led the Spartans with 13 kills. She was also credited with eight digs in the three-setter.

"We didn't let up," Burnett said, talking about how the team has been worked toward staying focused when things are not going their way on the court. "We have been working as a team to get back up."

Spartan head coach Abby McDonald said the team has shown growth since the season started, especially when the match momentum was against them in big games like this one against St. Thomas More.

"I didn't feel like we stayed in the match mentally," she said about her team's performance against the Sabers. There were some mental breakdowns that STM capitalized on. "We still have those moments, but it is much better (now). We keep saying it doesn't have to be our best yet."

SJO's Stephanie Trame slams the ball for a kill over the middle
Middle Stephanie Trame goes up to put the ball away against the Sabers. Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

The Spartans used well-placed tips and scrappy play to stay within striking position to reverse the score. Up by one at 12-11, STM engineered a six point run to go up 18-11. Not willing to going down without a fight, SJO rallied back to a three-point deficit at 23-20 before St. Thomas More closed out the set at 25-20.

"Their offense got going and we really didn't have an answer for it," McDonald said in evaluating the difference in the way her team played in the first set as opposed to the second. Mostly it came down to STM getting the ball to sophomore Anna Mcclure to put away. "We didn't have an answer on defense."

By the third set, St. Thomas More hit their stride mentally and emotionally and never once let Burnett or teammate Katelyn Berry, who chipped ten kills of her own for the Spartans, bully their way past them.

St. Thomas More led by as many six points before Berry and Kaiser's perseverance at the net paid off and pulling SJO within two points of taking the lead in the final set at 21-20. Their momentum stalled and St. Thomas More took the final set, 25-20.

Overall, McDonald was happy with how the team performed.

"I think the kids did a nice job of trying to stay in it," McDonald said. "I feel like they (STM) had more weapons on offense."

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