PARK HILLS – Emphasis was placed on establishing a right-side threat throughout the early moments as the Mineral Area volleyball team played its home opener on Tuesday evening.

Jane Kickham unleashed several booming kills during her first two rotations across the front, and totaled 13 kills with 14 digs during a 25-17, 25-13, 25-18 victory over the McKendree junior varsity.

North County graduate Emily Eaton converted 10 of her 19 swings from the left side, and setter Pam Zuluaga compiled 26 assists with 14 digs for the Lady Cardinals (5-0).

Mineral Area entered a temporary lull in the opening set, but not before Kickham handed her team a 6-3 advantage on her third successful kill.

McKendree briefly claimed a 13-12 advantage when the second consecutive ace by Alicia Hallemann checked off the net and crawled safely over.

Anica Popadic, the lone returning middle hitter for MAC, spurred a 4-0 response with a solo stuff-block before capping it with a scoring spike.

Mineral Area widened a 16-15 margin by taking the next eight points with libero Shelby Meyer at the service line. McKendree lost four straight points on hitting errors during that span.

A diving save by Cailey Bracken sparked a quick transition from Zuluaga to Kickham during a particularly impressive rally, and Eaton connected on the next MAC attack to present game point.

Bracken registered 22 digs – her career high in a three-set match – and had eight kills while continuing to steadily rebound from a sore rotator cuff.

Melissa Avendano entered the action in game two, and made an immediate impact with a block and kill on back-to-back plays to help Mineral Area establish a 13-3 lead.

Eaton terminated two straight points, the first of which included an alert reaction by Kickham to dig after her back-row spike was blocked squarely by Caitlyn Milligan.

Bracken pushed the difference to 17-6 after rotating forward, and the Lady Cardinals were able to give Zuluaga and other starters some rest while coasting to a two-game lead.

Hallemann and Milligan each had six kills for the Bearcats, who jumped ahead 12-7 in the third set. Libero Jessica Baldus provided 17 digs, and was a defensive standout during game one.

Meyer, who likewise compiled 17 digs, served a go-ahead ace for the Lady Cards at 16-15, and Kickham landed a twisting kill on the second contact when Zuluaga fought off the next McKendree attack.

Avendano and Bracken connected on quick sets to make it 21-17, and Mineral Area rolled from there to its fifth straight-set victory in a row.

The 20th-ranked Lady Cardinals will face four opponents this weekend at the Lincoln Land tournament after sweeping the Kankakee Invitational to begin their season.

Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at mking@dailyjournalonine.com

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