PARK HILLS – Members of the Mineral Area College volleyball team will be perfectly delighted to pack winter clothes for their next road trip.

The Lady Cardinals are destined for Casper, Wyo. after achieving their goal of securing just the second NJCAA Division I national tournament appearance in program history.

Mineral Area was focused from the outset Saturday night, and qualified by dominating visiting John A. Logan 25-14, 25-14, 25-18 in District K playoff match.

“It’s amazing. I still have goosebumps,” sophomore Jessica Lindsey said. “I knew we could do it this whole season. I had faith. We meshed really fast, and we have a lot of talent.”

Freshman Jane Kickham recorded a team-high 11 kills, and setter Pam Zuluaga compiled 28 assists plus 10 digs for the 19th-ranked Lady Cardinals, whose other national appearance occurred in 2011.

Mineral Area (25-7) surged ahead 19-12 after the third set was tied at 11-11, and soon celebrated the sweep after taking the previous two games without a serious challenge.

“It’s a game of momentum and you’re trying to be aggressive. We played really well without making many mistakes,” MAC 11th-year head coach Tim Copeland said. “We brought the energy hard right away, and felt like we could take advantage of it.”

Middle hitter Anica Popadic tallied seven kills while Cailey Bracken and Lindsey added six apiece to the victory. Samantha Feeney chipped in two aces.

Annie Wehrheim sent down eight kills and Jamie Hammond had three blocks for Region 24 champion John A. Logan (20-10).

Zuluaga served an initial 4-0 streak to begin the contest. She also steered three sets to an unsuspecting Logan side for kills, and shared three blocks.

Sophomore middle Taylor Covington highlighted the path to a 19-8 advantage with three early blocks while deflecting several other attacks from the Lady Vols.

“Coach talked to me at length before the game about what I needed to do,” Covington said. “Like when the ball was set to a certain place, then I needed to get that spot closed every time. I said that I would, and that was a huge factor tonight.”

Kickham placed a dazzling cut shot along the net, and Bracken smashed down the right-side line before two Logan errors closed out game one.

The Lady Vols were unable to recover with any consistent offense as Mineral Area remained aggressive for an 11-3 cushion during the second set.

Popadic got a stuff block at 21-10, and MAC took the ensuing rally that was initially saved off the ceiling and included a hustling coverage dig by Lindsey in the corner.

Mineral Area enjoyed a 12-0 record this season that encompassed two weekend tournaments, but still underwent repeated lineup changes while seeking the right combination.

Injuries played their part in the uncertainty, especially in the case of Lindsey, who worked her way back after being an all-region performer and team leader as a freshman.

“It’s been an up and down year, really. A lot of people have fought injuries,” Lindsey said. “I had knee surgery in May, and I came into this season at about 70 percent of my ability.

“I started off the first half of the season at libero, then moved to right side to get me warmed up. I went back to my old position and had to work my tail off to get back to where I was last year.”

The roster depth thinned slightly for the high-stakes encounter – arguably the most prominent match ever housed at Sechrest Fieldhouse – as five Lady Cardinals played every available rotation.

That decision proved fruitful. Accurate passes were the product of solid work along the back row, and MAC suffered only one service error compared to eight by the Lady Vols.

“We made changes in the home match against West Plains, and have pretty much stayed that way,” Copeland said. “Our offense runs faster. The hitters are more comfortable and have more opportunities to do different things. And if our blocking didn’t pick up their hits, then our defense was there.”

John A. Logan offered its greatest resistance to square game three following a kill by Maddie Woolen and two subsequent MAC miscues.

The Lady Cardinals called a timeout, and looked to Kickham for three big kills over the next nine points. She landed a swing from beyond the 10-foot line to make it 24-18.

Abbie McAllister, who blocked a spike during her first rally of the night, terminated a long rally from the middle to commence the celebration before the vast partisan crowd.

“If you had asked me what our goal was at the beginning of the year, it was to go to nationals,” Covington said. “We had a group of girls who wanted to work hard and do whatever it took to get there. It’s a great feeling.”

Libero Hunter Vargo equaled Zuluaga and Lindsey with 10 digs each while Bracken brought up nine for the reigning Region 16 champs.

The NJCAA tournament is scheduled for Nov. 17-19. Seeds and first-round pairings among 16 teams will be announced within the coming days.

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

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