CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — When nearly two and a half hours of intense volleyball concluded, the Webb City Cardinals were the team hoisting a district championship plaque into the air.
With a fast start and a strong finish, second-seeded Webb City knocked off top-seeded Carl Junction 3-2 in the title match of the Class 4 District 12 tournament on Monday night at Carl Junction High School.
In a five-set thriller, the Cardinals defeated the Bulldogs 28-26, 25-15, 23-25, 20-25 and 15-10.
“I’m so proud of them,” Webb City coach Rhonda Lawrence said. “CJ is a great team. We were definitely the underdog coming in. I don’t think anybody is going to believe it’s going to say Webb City instead of them. But I felt like we played strategically and very smart. It was a great match. We really stepped it up as a team and were locked in with each other. We settled in and the girls did their jobs.”
After capturing a second district title in three seasons, the Cardinals (19-12-2) will meet the to-be-determined champion of District 11 in the sectional round of the state tournament at 6:30 on Thursday night.
Meeting in a district championship match has become a regular occurrence for these Central Ozark Conference rivals. The Bulldogs beat the Cardinals in last year’s district title game after Webb City topped Carl Junction in the 2019 championship match.
“We see these guys a lot and we tried to make some adjustments in our offense to help us score better,” Lawrence said. “Hat’s off to CJ. They have a great program. We make each other better. Iron sharpens iron. That’s why we’re always here.”
This year’s postseason meeting was a hard-fought, back-and-forth clash that went the Cardinals’ way. Lawrence noted getting off to a good start by winning the opening set was crucial for her squad, especially after the Bulldogs topped the Cardinals 3-0 just three weeks ago.
“Winning that first set gets the monkey off your back and you’ve got the momentum,” Lawrence said.
Carl Junction, in a district championship match for the sixth straight season, ends the season with a record of 24-11.
“I thought we played really tight and under a lot of pressure, especially in the first two sets,” Carl Junction coach Cheryl Sharples said. “We made a lot of errors. But they forced us into some situations and we didn’t handle them real well.”
Down 2-0, the Bulldogs won the third and fourth sets.
“We never quit,” Sharples added. “We were making some aggressive errors, but our kids never quit. I’ve been proud of them for that all year. When Jessa (Hylton) went out, we could have easily been done. But they stepped up and we had a great year.”
All five sets were close.
The first set was deadlocked at 26 when Webb City’s Kearston Galardo slammed a kill before a hitting error on the Bulldogs gave the decision to the visitors.
The second set was tied at 15, but Webb City grabbed the momentum with Kate Brownfield serving. The Cardinals rattled off 10 straight points.
The third set was tied at 22 when the Bulldogs scored three of the next four points.
Carl Junction pulled away late in the fourth set, with Destiny Buerge serving a pair of aces. A kill from Kylie Scott finished off the set and forced a deciding fifth set.
In the finale set, Webb City went ahead right away with leads of 6-3 and 8-5. Galardo, Aubree Lassiter and Brenda Lawrence all had kills late in the set to give the Cardinals the win.
Lawrence noted she was proud her squad kept its composure after dropping two straight sets. And of course, getting a lead early in the final set proved key.
“After the second set, I told our kids that Carl Junction wasn’t going to lay down,” Lawrence said. “They are used to this. We’ve played in a lot of four or five set matches. In the fifth set, you’ve got to go fast. That 15 points goes quick. You have to be on target.”
NAMES & NUMBERS
A senior outside hitter, Galardo had 15 kills, eight digs and four aces for the Cardinals. Junior outside hitter Brenda Lawrence recorded 15 kills, while junior outside hitter Brownfield added nine kills and nine digs.
A sophomore outside hitter, Lassiter added four kills and four blocks, while senior middle blocker Makenzie Storm had three kills and seven digs. Junior defensive specialist Jenna Noel chipped in five digs.
Webb City junior Kyah Sanborn handed out 41 assists and had 14 digs from the setter position, while sophomore libero Sophia Crane had a team-high 16 digs.
A junior outside hitter, Buerge led the Bulldogs with 21 kills and 17 digs, while Scott, a sophomore middle hitter, added 14 kills.
Freshman outside hitter Karissa Chase contributed eight kills and five blocks, while senior defensive specialist Ellie Lawson served five aces.
Junior setter Logan Jones, an Arkansas recruit, handed out 46 assists.
Carl Junction’s seniors were Hylton, Lawson, Olivia Vediz, Maisen McCluney, Abigale Wilson, Maggie Brown and Delani Mertens. A standout outside hitter, Hylton suffered a season-ending injury on Sept. 30.
“Our seniors are a great group of kids,” Sharples said. “They’ve been playing since they were really young. All of them contributed in big ways. It was hard to say goodbye to them.”
Note: The District 11 title match between Willard and Logan-Rogersville is scheduled for Tuesday night. The Cardinals own a win over Rogersville and have lost to Willard.