CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — After roughly 12 hours of volleyball, it was a familiar pairing in the Dr. Jeffrey Knutzen CJ Classic volleyball tournament Gold Bracket Championship round with hosts Carl Junction taking on area rival Webb City.
In the end, it was the Cardinals (19-2-1) left standing when the smoke cleared as they went on to defeat the Bulldogs 25-19 and 25-17 in straight sets to win the CJ Classic while snapping the hosts’ two-year winning streak in the tournament at the same time.
“It made for a very long day because the games were stretched out so we would have enough time to rest in between,” Webb City coach Rhonda Lawrence said. “Mentally, we were still getting up and ready to play. It was like they were excited to play again, to keep going and pushing to get to this championship game. They stayed mentally focused and took care of what they needed to to get it done.”
THE RIVALRY CONTINUES
Less than a week after Webb City defeated Carl Junction in COC action, the Cardinals faced off against the Bulldogs in the Gold Bracket Championship for the fourth straight year. Webb City won the CJ Classic in 2019 before the Bulldogs won back to back CJ Classic titles in 2020 and 2021.
“We had to do a lot of work as far as fixing things they hurt us on earlier in the week,” Coach Lawrence added about the win over CJ in the finals match. “They showed us some glaring weaknesses, so we had to work on it and throughout the week and I felt like we stepped it up and made those adjustments knowing that Lo (Jones) would be back for this one. … We stayed focused and knew where we needed to put the ball to score, who we needed to stay away from and the girls executed the game plan. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The championship match played out much like it does every time these two teams have faced off against each other in recent memory—evenly-matched games against two area rivals who know each other’s tendencies.
In the opening set, Webb City built an early 13-6 lead on a block from Aubree Lassiter before Carl Junction (11-7-1) scored eight of the next 11 points—with Kylie Scott earning three kills and a block in the process—to trim the lead to 16-14. Webb City answered with a sideout on a kill from Kate Brownfield and added the next two points to push the lead to 19-14, with the Cardinals essentially playing with that cushion as they traded with the Bulldogs before clinching the win.
The second game opened with a four-point service run from CJ’s Destiney Buerge before Webb City came back to tie the set at 8-8. Multiple kills from Brenda Lawrence and strong play from Lassiter, Kyah Sanborn and Jaeli Rutledge helped lead the Cardinals to an 18-13 advantage down the stretch.
Carl Junction’s Aubreigh Fowler registered a block before the Bulldogs cut the lead to 19-16 with a kill from Karissa Chase.
Webb City came up with the final haymaker, using a kill from Lassiter to force a sideout before she followed with a four-point run behind the service line that included an ace and a kill from Brownfield to push the lead to 24-16.
After Scott forced a Bulldogs’ sideout with a kill, Brownfield clinched the championship win for the Cardinals with a kill of her own.
“When we get five in a row that late in the game, you can see the writing on the wall,” Coach Lawrence said when asked how crucial the late service run by Lassiter was. “We had to stay mentally tough and keep going after them because you can’t let up on them and let them breathe, they are going to come back, and that is a team that can come back and hurt you.”
CARDINALS PERFECT THROUGHOUT CLASSIC
While it wasn’t always easy sledding, Webb City went through the 13-hour gauntlet unblemished, not even dropping a set. In pool play, the Cardinals defeated McDonald County (25-9, 25-7), Siloam Springs (25-17, 25-8), Springfield Central (25-17, 26-24) and Rogers (25-8, 25-15) to earn first place in the Red Pool.
In tournament play, the Cardinals opened with a 25-14, 25-13 win over Nevada in the quarterfinals before matching up with Harrisonville in the semifinals, where it looked like Webb City might drop its first set of the tournament. After winning the opening set without much resistance, 25-10, the Cardinals fell into a 17-8 hole in the second set before a furious rally gave Webb City a 26-24 win for a trip to the finals against the Cardinals for the fourth straight season.
BULLDOGS TAKE SECOND-PLACE FINISH WITH RETURN OF JONES
While Carl Junction came up just shy of clinching a CJ Classic title for a third straight season, a second-place finish against a quality program like Webb City isn’t anything to hang your head about. Especially when you consider the importance of Carl Junction welcoming back senior setter Lo Jones, an Akansas commit, to the court for limited action after she missed the team’s previous 14 sets leading up to CJ Classic with an injury.
“We used her off and on in pool play just to get her back in game mode and into a rhythm,” Carl Junction coach Cheryl Sharples said. “It was huge to get her back. I think we only get better from here with her on the court.”
Just like their counterpart in the finals, the Bulldogs also finished with an unblemished record in pool play—with 2-0 wins over Neosho, Heritage (Rogers, Arkansas), Pittsburg, Kansas and Siloam Springs—and all the way through the Gold Bracket by beating Siloam Springs in the quarters and Rogers (Arkansas) High School in the semifinals before meeting the Cardinals in the finals.
“Overall, I thought we played really well today,” Sharples said. “I felt like we did some things better against Webb City than the first time we played them [on Sept. 20] that we have kind of been working on. They had a couple runs in each set that separated them from us. We just have to learn to take care of that and prevent those runs from happening.”
Webb City’s Brenda Lawrence had 43 kills, five aces, 21 digs, a block and an assist to lead the Cardinals through 14 total sets. Lassiter had 39 kills, 11 aces, 13 digs, six blocks and two assists, while Brownfield also had 39 kills to go along with three aces, 28 digs and three blocks. Sanborn finished with 132 assists, 23 digs, 14 kills, five aces and two blocks. Rutledge had 21 kills, 13 blocks and eight digs, with Kirra Long adding 13 kills, nine blocks and four digs.
Scott had 44 kills and 14 aces, while Buerge had 47 kills and eight aces for Carl Junction. Jones had 111 assists in limited action during 11 sets. Chase finished with 27 kills and four blocks, while Adia Kennedy closed with 11 kills and eight blocks.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM AND MVP
Below is the 2022 Dr. Jeffrey Knutzen CJ Classic All-Tournament Team as well as the tournament MVP:
Destiny Buerge, Carl Junction
Logan Jones, Carl Junction
Meghan Grone, Springfield Central
Kennedy Smalley, Harrisonville
Bailey Owens, Joplin
Meredith Baldwin, Neosho
Delaney Hope, Nevada
Jacy Thomasson, Riverton
Malia Fosse, Rogers
Trinity Collette, Siloam Springs
Kate Brownfield, Webb City
Kyah Sanborn, Webb City
MVP—Aubree Lassiter, Webb City
Webb City travels to Carthage on Tuesday.
Carl Junction travels to Neosho on Tuesday.