State championship returns to Santa Fe Lady Chiefs
They were No. 1 in the rankings and No. 1 in their fans' hearts.
Now the Santa Fe Lady Chiefs are No. 1 in fact, rolling to a 28-26, 28-12 victory Saturday over fourth-rated New Haven in the MSHSAA Class 1 Volleyball Championships at Cape Girardeau.
"I can't even describe it in words. This is so amazing," declared Santa Fe senior setter Lauren Wiggins. "We've been working for this the last three years of our lives and we've been here every time."
For four years, the Lady Chiefs have made it into the state's Final Four, but never brought home more than a consolation prize. This time, the I-70 Conference Tournament and regular season champions cracked the golden ceiling for the first time since the program's six-year title run ended in 1987.
"I'm trying not to cry. I'm getting a little teary-eyes, but trying to hold it back a little bit," gushed head coach Kinsey Harms, a 2004 Santa Fe graduate who never got to play in the Show. "I'm really proud of these girls. This group is very special."
The Lady Shamrocks, who defeated Santa Fe in the 2005 finals, didn't make it easy. Although the Lady Chiefs led most of the way -- the largest margin being 19-14 -- New Haven battled back to even the contest four times -- including three game points -- before sophomore Sadie Limback slammed a shot to end the set.
"We had to work together so much," Wiggins said. "There were so many times we could have let go and let focus drop, but we just stayed together as a team. That's who we are."
The difference in the opening frame was Santa Fe's blocking, not allowing the Lady Shamrocks' clean hits and limiting them to a .182 attack percentage.
"The blockers really worked hard at the double-blocking in the middle," Harms said.
Senior Kylie Limback had her impact as well, providing nine kills in the set and a team-high 14 in the match.
"She's amazing as a leader," Harms asserted. "She does a really good job of pushing herself every day in practice."
Santa Fe blew out to a 6-1 lead in the second set, extending it to 18-6 before encountering much difficulty. With Kylie Limback serving, the Lady Chiefs eight straight points - three of them coming when senior Courtney Bishop and Sadie Limback converted less-than-stellar passes into kills.
"They took control on the front row," Harms said. "They did kind of help us with some of the passing issues we were having."
New Haven (31-8-1) was unable to string together more than three points in a row, hitting at only a .030 clip during the second game.
Sadie Limback finished with 10 kills and 11 digs, senior Kenzie Phillips pulled up 10 shots and Wiggins provided 22 assists for Santa Fe (36-1-1) - whose only loss during the season was a three-set final in the Warrensburg Tournament to Pleasant Hill, the third-place club in Class 3.
Also filling important roles for the Lady Chiefs were senior Abby Zitelman, sophomore Cara Hinz and freshman Josey Burton.
Wiggins was one of six upperclassmen playing in her final prep match, and will always remember the character of her teammates and what it took to achieve the ultimate reward.
"A lot of heart," she remarked. "We have great team chemistry and are all so talented. We just put that together."