Lady Saints come back to take third place
It was a rough start to their first-ever trip to the Final Four volleyball tournament, but the Saint Paul Lady Saints re-grouped in time to salvage a third-place victory in three sets over College Heights Christian of Joplin Saturday at Municipal Auditori-um in Kansas City.
The Lady Saints lost their first two matches in round-robin play Friday. St. Pius X of Festus beat the Lady Saints 25-14, 25-15 in the first match. Then Hermann hammered the Lady Saints 25-9, 25-16.
The Lady Saints were able to win their next set versus College Heights Christian 25-18. But the opponent came back to beat the Lady Saints by the same 25-18 score in the second set, setting up a split.
Hermann, which also downed College Heights Chris-tian 25-11, 25-12 and St. Pius X (Festus) 25-8, 25-16, easily won pool play with a perfect 6-0 mark. St. Pius X, which split with College Heights Christian (CHC) 25-19, 21-25, was second at 3-3. CHC was third at 2-4, with the Lady Saints fourth at 1-5.
The Lady Saints came from behind to beat CHC in the third-place match 21-25, 25-20, 26-24.
"(It was a) fitting way for how we got to the Final Four," SPLHS head coach Aaron Marsh said. "Our girls battled all the way through and never gave up to pull out the win."
Hermann downed St. Pius X (Festus) 25-18, 25-20 for the championship.
Saint Paul 21-25-26, CHC 25-20-24
The Lady Saints opened up a quick 4-1 lead in the first set, mainly taking advantage of attack errors. CHC battled back to tie the score 6-6 and then won nine of the next 12 points to gain a stronghold at 15-10.
"We started out slowly, expecting everything to come to us, rather than us going to the ball and playing aggressively," Marsh said. "In game two, we began to play smarter offense and were able to find the holes in their defense."
Saint Paul rallied to within 21-20 on attack errors and mishandled plays by CHC. Also included in a 6-0 run for SPLHS was a kill by Dana Peters.
But CHC rolled on to the first-set win with four of the final five points, including the set-winning kill by Hannah Braec-kel.
The second set was 2-2 when the Lady Saints scored three straight points, including two kills by Marissa Brackman.
Again CHC retaliated with eight of the set's next 13 points, knotting the count 10-10. In fact, CHC won five straight points, turning a 10-8 deficit into a 13-10 lead.
The Lady Saints called timeout and rallied to win 10 of the next 13 points for a 20-15 advantage. Peters and Meagan Nolte each had two kills and Brack-man and Mehl one apiece in the spree.
After two points by CHC, Peters smacked down another kill, only to have CHC respond with three straight points until Peters hammered another kill.
CHC rattled off three straight points to pull within 21-20 before Meagan Nolte had a kill, CHC made two kill errors and Peters finished off the set with a kill.
The Lady Saints pulled away from a 7-7 tie in the third set to grab as much as a 16-10 lead, but CHC battled back to tie the set 19-19.
"Our blocking picked up in game two and really made a difference because it didn't allow their attackers to have a clean swing on our back-row defense," Marsh said.
Audrey Mehl came through with a kill, Devon Heins served up an ace and CHC made an error on a kill attempt to give the Lady Saints a 22-19 lead.
Peters had another kill for a 23-20 lead, but CHC rebounded. Peters gave the Lady Saints three match points with a kill.
CHC was tough to go down, scoring the match's next three points, forcing a timeout by Marsh.
Peters received a pass from Heins and smashed the ball to the floor for a 25-24 SPLHS lead.
With Peters at the line, CHC suffered another attack error, and the Lady Saints won the match.
Peters had a strong match with 17 kills, 14 assists, 11 digs and two assisted blocks. Nolte added 12 kills, two digs and six total blocks, including two solos.
Marissa Brackman added eight kills, two assists and nine digs and Mehl five kills and eight digs.
The Lady Saints had 42 kills in 125 attempts with 19 errors for a .184 kill percentage, which was better than CHC's .104 (36 for 134 with 22 errors).
Heins finished with 23 assists and 14 digs.
The Lady Saints also had valuable contributions from Regan Ohlman (one dig), Hadley Rolf (18 digs) and Kristina Oyestese (three assists, one dig and two assisted blocks).
"As a coach, you're very happy for your team to end the season with a victory because that is an accomplishment that doesn't happen very often," Marsh said.
In the split with CHC, the Lady Saints were led by Nolte and Peters with eight kills apiece. Brackman supplied four kills, Mehl three and Ohlman one.
"Our play was similar to all other tournaments we played in this season," Marsh said. "We got better as the day went on."
The Lady Saints finished with a .136 kill percentage (24 for 81 with 13 errors) to .225 (24 for 71 with eight errors) for CHC.
"We played aggressive offense and were able to serve aggressively to pull away late in game one," Marsh said. "In game two, we kind of tensed up and got back to making errors that put us in too much of a hole to overcome."
Peters dished out 11 assists, Heins 10 and Mehl one. Brack-man had 12 digs, Rolf eight, Peters seven, Mehl five and Nolte, Ohlman and Oyestese one each.
Nolte, Ohlman, Mehl and Peters each had one assisted block.
Nolte and Peters led the Lady Saints with six kills each in the loss to Hermann. Brackman added two kills and Mehl one. Heins dished out seven assists and Peters six.
"I was pleased with our effort against Hermann because our team started to relax and play, even though we didn't get the results we wanted," Marsh said.
Brackman and Mehl each had four digs, Heins two and Peters and Rolf each with one.
Ohlman and Peters combined on one block.
"Hermann had tremendous speed and great athletes all throughout their lineup," Marsh said.
Hermann was dominant at the net, killing at a .463 clip (23 for 41 with only four errors) to .071 (15 for 42 with 12 errors) for the Lady Saints.
"Our match against Hermann is one a coach can't necessarily look at the score," Marsh said. "We were able to play with Hermann in a few aspects, but they were the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2 for a reason."
In the Final Four opener for the Lady Saints, Peters and Brackman came through with six kills apiece and Mehl and Nolte three each. Heins and Peters each dished out nine assists.
"We started out playing fairly well against St. Pius in terms of being able to just go back and forth and trade points," Marsh said.
Brackman had the team's lone ace serve. Nolte had three blocks and Peters two.
Mehl led the team with seven digs and Brackman and Rolf each had five.
"As the game (progressed) we began to put too much pressure on ourselves as we made a few mistakes, which put us in a hole too big to overcome.
"St. Pius has a sophomore middle hitter, who was able to be aggressive and take us out of our game and put our defense back on its heels."
Marsh said it was an amazing experience for the Lady Saints to compete in the Final Four.
"This is something that is not guaranteed to happen," he said. "We wanted to enjoy it in every aspect.
"Hopefully this is a springboard for motivation for offseason work in terms of a desire to get back."
The Lady Saints, 31-8-2, lose Mehl and Peters to graduation.
"Our two seniors will truly be missed for all of the effort they put in this season," Marsh said. "We will return five of our main seven players, so hopefully they will be ready to make another run next year."