Lady Chiefs win 29th district title
SWEET SPRINGS -- Despite being the No. 1 seed, the fifth-ranked Santa Fe volleyball team was a bit anxious Tuesday about winning the Class 1, District 14 Tournament championship at Sweet Springs.
"I thought the girls were extremely nervous. They had jitters, some of them didn't even sleep [Monday] night," remarked head coach Kinsey Harms. "They want this really bad."
As it turned out, the Lady Chiefs needn't have worried so much. After a skitterish 25-19, 25-14 semifinal victory over Crest Ridge, they crushed Concordia for the third time this season, 25-15, 25-10, for the program's 29th district title.
The second-seeded Lady Orioles had barely gotten that far, as No. 3 Sweet Springs pushed them to a third set in the second semifinal before they pulled out a 25-20, 25-27, 25-13 decision.
The Lady Cougars were even with Santa Fe at 5-5 in the first game of the evening's opening match, but then were hit with a 14-5 spree. After scoring eight straight points during the serve of freshman McKenzie Phillips, the Lady Chiefs led 20-13.
Crest Ridge later put together a 7-2 surge, three times holding off game point, but a fault ended the set.
"I didn't believe we played exactly to our potential," Harms said.
After forging out an 11-8 edge in the second game, Santa Fe scored five of the next six points to create some separation. The Lady Cougars got to within 18-12, but weren't able to score more than three points in a row at any time to bite into the deficit.
"After the first set, they kind of relaxed a little bit and got in their routine," Harms said. "It takes a little bit to steady their nerves."
Senior Breanna Wonderly led Crest Ridge (8-16) with six kills, four digs and four aces, while senior Destanie Garza and junior Kennedy Dick combined for 11 assists.
The Lady Chiefs got five spikes each from sophomore Lexi Smith and freshman Kylie Limback, enjoying an enviable .515 attack percentage for the match.
Concordia had a harder time shaking the Lady Greyhounds, who were down by only three points before surrendering the last two of the first game -- despite difficulties with serve-receive.
"It's been a problem all year," admitted Sweet Springs head coach Kristen Niemeyer. "We don't watch the ball hit our arms. We just assume it's going to go where we want it to go."
It looked as though the Lady Orioles would make quick work of the host team when they led 20-12 in the second game. However, the Lady 'Hounds had other plans, scoring six straight points during senior Mikalah Vogelsmeier's serve to key a 10-2 run to get ahead.
Concordia fought off game point once, but couldn't do it a second time.
"I told them this is going to be our last game if we decide not to play," Niemeyer said. "They decided to play."
Sweet Springs' passing problems returned in the deciding set, the Lady O's jumping in front 15-8 and steadily adding to that advantage en route to the victory which would push them into the district final for the first time since beating Santa Fe for the title in 2009.
Senior Hailee Langkrahr paced Concordia with 13 kills and 15 digs and senior Staci Schlueter put down 11 shots and pulled up 20.
The Lady Greyhounds (9-14-2) got seven kills and 11 saves from junior Christina Higgins. Vogelsmeier contributed five spikes, 10 digs, three aces and a pair of blocks, senior Kaitlyn Fuehring and junior Ashtine Hunter each pulled up 13 shots, and senior Rebecca Tyler provided 20 assists.
Although showing improvement this season and returning six starters of its nine-player rotation, the key to Sweet Springs' future success is confidence.
"I know they're capable, but they just don't believe in themselves," Niemeyer said. "That's what hurts us every year."
The momentum built up by the Lady Orioles didn't last against Santa Fe, which used a pair of hits from senior Chelsea Winter, Smith's ace and four attack errors for an early 8-2 lead.
"The first five to ten points really matter to the way we complete the sets," Harms explained.
Langkrahr had three kills during a pair of three-point stretches for Concordia, which kept the Lady Chiefs within reach even though trailing 18-13. Then Limback found a groove with two swings and a block to widen the gap to nine points to nail down the win.
"She's been a real asset to the team," Harms said. "She mixes it up on both sides" of the front row.
Santa Fe got off to a 7-1 start in the second set before a block by 6-foot-3 freshman Ellison Brunkhorst appeared to stabilize the Lady Orioles. Such wasn't the case, the Lady Chiefs going on a 9-2 spree to make 18-6. Three straight missed Concordia shots set up match point, which Winter secured with a tip.
"You could see it on their faces, they knew they were going to take that one," Harms said. "They weren't going to give it up."
Langkrahr had five kills and six digs for the Lady Orioles (17-14-3), but they couldn't overcome a minus-.086 attack percentage -- especially when Santa Fe was hitting at a .429 clip.
The Lady Chiefs' ability to put two strong hitters on the front line at any time -- Smith and Winter during some rotations, Limback and senior Callie Gieselman at other times -- makes them hard to defend.
"They really work together to make a strong front row," Harms explained. "We're lucky in that area."
Winter knocked down nine shots and Limback seven in the finals, with Smith and Gieselman combining for seven kills and 15 digs. Junior Brooke Barnett set 18 of the team's 26 kills.
Since winning its sixth straight crown in 1987, Santa Fe (25-6-1) has reached the MSHSAA Championships eight time -- but hasn't finished first again. A year ago the Lady Chiefs lost both matches at state, and returning there won't be easy since they have to meet second-ranked Cass-Midway in the first round of Saturday's sectional.
"They were disappointed in the way things went down last year and want another chance at it," Harms declared. "They want to prove to everybody that they deserve to be there, that they can win it."