The Rolla volleyball team made the trek back down to Springfield Central for Districts again on Tuesday, Oct. 17 for the semi-final match against Lebanon. After a rough first set, the Lady Bulldogs fought their way back to win the second set and force a third, but they couldn't close out the final set and lost 2-1.
The Lady Bulldogs came out flat in the first set and Lebanon was able to race out to a quick 8-1 lead by winning eight straight points. Rolla was able to settle in after that, but they were never able to get within seven points in the set. The Lady Bulldogs struggled on their first hit throughout the first set and that made it difficult to get clean balls to their setters. As a result, Rolla couldn't get their hitting game going and Lebanon was able to run away with a 25-16 win.
"About halfway through the first set we started playing a little better and we started passing," said head coach Stephanie Pritchett. "Our girls all year have struggled with staying aggressive when they're nervous and tight in a big game situation. I told them they just needed to be aggressive and remember they're here because they deserved to be here in this spot."
A different Rolla team came out in the second set. Neither team was able to really control the match early, as leads never extended past two points early. Rolla turned it on in the middle of the match and slowly built out a lead, jumping out in front 14-10 before Lebanon was forced to call a timeout. Shelby Ply was all over the place in the set, blocking shots and getting kills to lead the momentum shift. Rolla led by as many as six points in the set, but Lebanon crawled back into the match, tying the match at 20. Rebecca Janke gave Rolla the lead for good with a kill on the next point and the Lady Bulldogs finished strong to take the set 25-21.
The third set looked a lot like the second. Teams were back and forth early in the set, but Rolla was dealt a blow when Leah Rasco crashed her head into Ami Ikuenobe's hip and landed hard on the floor. She wasn't able to return to the game. Right after the injury, Rolla played some inspired volleyball and took a 7-3 lead. Rolla then hit back to back balls into the net, but Janke got the Lady Bulldogs back on track with a big kill. Rolla's lead fluctuated for the next few points, as they led by as many as four, but Lebanon fought back to tie the match at 15. Both teams traded points until the match was locked at 18, but Rolla took three straight points to jump out in front 21-18. Rolla couldn't finish as well as they did in the second set, however, and Lebanon tied the game at 23. Rolla missed on three kills late, including a spike into the net to give Lebanon a 24-23 lead. Lebanon smacked down one final kill to win the match 25-23.
Ply ended the night with nine kills and 1.5 blocks, Megan Brown added nine kills of her own, while Janke chipped in six kills and a pair of blocks. Sophie Parsons added seven digs in the loss.
"I don't think, outside our passing in that first match, there was one thing that killed us," said coach Pritchett after the game. "We played an all-around decent game start to finish in the second and the third. I'm super proud of the girls. We just got beat the last three points, we didn't do anything to beat ourselves, so that's why I'm really proud of them.
Pritchett continued, "it's hard because we have eight seniors on this team and you get in a tight game and you really want to go on to the next match, we wanna be in the District Championship, but they fought. Some of the girls don't get on the court and I hate that for them, but they have been a big part of our team this year. Some people have been amazing practice players for us and challenged our girls. They may not have seen the court a lot or at all tonight, but they are as much a part of this team as everybody else that was out there. I'm really proud of them, they did a great job."
While Rolla had a big senior crew this season, the Lady Bulldogs will bring back a lot of talent from this year's team. The fight that they showed on Tuesday night should pay off next season.
"That gives us a lot of hope for next year, which doesn't help our senior crew, but we have a good crew of people coming back and it gives us hope for that," said coach Pritchett. "I'm excited."