HILLSBORO, Mo. – Mineral Area reclaimed the Region 16 volleyball title in painless fashion on Saturday by defeating rival Jefferson for the second straight year.

The championship meeting last fall included four sets, in which Lady Cardinals exhausted themselves to seal a 32-30 triumph in the deciding game.

Mineral Area avoided similar stress on Saturday, and swept the Vikings 25-14, 25-18, 25-15 to acquire its third Region 16 title in program history.

The eighth-ranked Lady Cardinals (33-0) advanced to play John A. Logan in Carterville, Ill. next Saturday for a berth in the NJCAA tournament.

Jefferson (12-17) began the match with outstanding defense at the net to hold an early advantage. Kayla Juenger and Kymbra Kirby each tallied a solo block and two shared.

The Lady Cardinals gradually improved their hitting to chip away, and soon progressed to their first lead at 10-9 on an ace by setter Pam Zuluaga.

The intensity continued to rise, and Jefferson called its first timeout at 15-11 after two consecutive Jane Kickham spikes zoomed directly to the floor. Anica Popadic stuffed Juenger for another point out of the break, and Mineral Area mounted an 8-0 run.

Cailey Braken and Melissa Avendano provided stellar hitting down the stretch before Raylyn Dodd and Zuluaga paired for a block to seal the first game.

Avendano paced all players with 11 kills while Bracken had six and Dodd added four. Kickham notched nine kills and Popadic ended with five.

Zuluaga posted 28 assists plus nine digs for the Lady Cardinals. Bracken led with 12 digs while Shelby Meyer and Kickham tallied apiece.

The Vikings began the third set with another early edge behind powerful play at the net. However, Kickham and Avendano hustled to corral errant balls and kept long rallies going to narrow the score.

Mineral Area earned its first lead at 5-4 after Avendano ventured within a foot of the bleachers to return a ball on the third hit. That point ended on a double-contact call against Jefferson.

Natasa Bozic displayed determination on the defensive end against strong swinging Mineral Area late in the match. But Zuluaga kept her opponents guessing by setting up a different hitter on each attack.

Popadic recorded each of her stuff blocks during a dominant final stretch for the Lady Cardinals. Kickham finished with three blocks and Zuluaga had two.

Dodd recorded another block on the opening point of game two. Each team executed their most efficient offenses during game two.

Juenger tallied four of her team-high seven kills for the Lady Vikings, and Ali Hanger posted five of her 10 digs.

Imani Williamson ended with five kills for Jefferson while Urte Neimantatite, Kymbra Kirby, and Sarah Chapman each had four.

Avendano made the most of her swings down the stretch of the middle game with impressive spikes to maintain the advantage. Kickham unleashed some baffling jump serves with sharp topspin.

Kickham was called for touching the net on a negated attack, but delivered three aggressive kills from there on strong swings.

Kickham, Zuluaga, and Bracken each received all-region honors for the second straight year following the conclusion of the match. Tim Copeland was again chosen as Region 16 Coach of the Year.

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Sports Reporter

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