Lady Tigers hoping for district berth

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Freshman Kayla Kiehl cleanly handles a serve for the Lady Tigers. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena ...

MALTA BEND - Even a truncated version of Theodore Roosevelt's famous praise of competitors has resonance with members of the fledgling Malta Bend volleyball program.

At this stage in its development, winning or losing is secondary to merely playing. After three years of junior varsity matches, the Lady Tigers have stepped up the varsity level this season. However, due to scheduling difficulties, they may not be eligible to play in a district tournament.

"That would give us more games, more experience," second-year coach Lisa Duncan said of a post-season meet. "At least it's counting for something."

Malta Bend has played five varsity matches and has two more scheduled. According to MSHSAA rules, it must play nine contests and a tournament, which it will Oct. 8 at Sherwood. Scheduling isn't easy, since the Lady Tigers' Cooper County Athletic Association doesn't play volleyball -- and neither do nearby leagues like its former one, the CAC.

Which leaves only the I-70 and Kaysinger Conferences within a short distance, but schools in those power-packed leagues are usually booked up and can only offer JV matches -- except for Sweet Springs, which gave Malta Bend its only home match thus far, Wellington-Napoleon and LaMonte.

That makes the Lady Tigers road warriors, having to go as far as Jefferson City to play Calvary Lutheran. While Duncan said officials have "been understanding about our travel," not getting home dates is limiting.

"A lot of schools don't want to come to Malta Bend," Duncan admitted. "We're begging."

Duncan thinks she has two more opponents lined up, but needs two more matches beyond those to land a district berth. Complicating matters is that 2011 is the second of the customary biennial scheduling cycle for most schools.

On the court, the Lady Tigers are coming along. They battled hard Tuesday during a 25-11, 25-22 loss to the Concordia JV, leading the second game as late as 22-21.

"They have some good moments," Duncan said of her young squad. "The mental part of it they're starting to get."

The challenge of stepping up to varsity competition is "the caliber of play," Duncan said. "Everybody else has so much more experience."

Malta Bend hadn't won a game, much less a match, against JV teams until last year. At a triangular last week at LaMonte, the Lady Tigers finally recorded their first victory, a 25-13, 25-17 decision over Wentworth Military Academy.

"It meant the world," Duncan remarked. "It gave them more confidence to know they can win."

Making it more difficult to prepare is a shortage of numbers. Malta Bend only has six active players -- senior Dawn Gorrell, junior Mandy Carmack, sophomore Jessie Gorrell and freshmen Kayla Kiehl, Sabra Cronk and Stormie Young -- and two others who have not gotten medical clearance to play: sophomore Danielle Kiser and freshman Ashlee Case.

If the Lady Tigers want to scrimmage, it must be against their junior high squad, so Duncan said they "focus on basic skills and drills." Being among the smallest schools in the state, Malta Bend will never have a swollen roster, but Duncan thinks it can maintain the ranks once the program becomes established.

"I'm hoping there some kids in the school who are just catching on," she said. "There are some potentially good girls who we hope will come out."

That process would be aided by the prospect of a real varsity schedule and the excitement of district play. The question of the moment is whether the Lady Tigers can find the handful of varsity opponents they need to accomplish that objective over the next four weeks.

Can anyone spare a match?

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