PARK HILLS – The Mineral Area volleyball team could have justifiably boasted on Tuesday evening after honoring a groundbreaking group of sophomores with a dominant victory in their home finale.

But there was no extravagant celebration or prolonged basking in the moment. Instead, just a round of smiling high fives and customary post-match stretching.

The Lady Cardinals stamped the first undefeated regular season for any sport in school history, which somehow exceeded their already lofty expectations.

Mineral Area improved to 32-0 overall with a 25-14, 25-13, 25-12 victory over St. Louis to solidify an outright MCCAC championship at Bob Sechrest Fieldhouse.

“Until tonight back in the locker room, we haven’t talked one time about being undefeated,” Mineral Area head coach Tim Copeland said. “I didn’t want that weighing on their minds.”

“But probably eight to 10 games ago, it started becoming real to me that this could happen,” he added. “I’m sure our players have thought about it, but they haven’t let it get in their way or make them too nervous. From that aspect, they are a pretty mature group.”

Jane Kickham totaled eight kills with 12 digs, and Cailey Bracken notched eight kills with 11 digs after being recognized alongside Anica Popadic, Pam Zuluaga, Emily Eaton and Amy Leftridge.

Eaton recorded four of her six kills during a single rotation across the front in game three. Raylyn Dodd posted three of the Lady Cards’ seven solo blocks while adding six more kills from the middle.

“We’re all for the hype,” said freshman Ainslee Finch, who served three aces and made 10 digs. “It has helped to keep us going and excited.”

Mineral Area looked disjointed in the opening minutes against Archers, but used hustling digs by Bracken and Finch to grab an eventual 14-8 lead as Zuluaga neatly tipped the second contact over the net.

Kickham and Popadic executed blocks during a 5-0 spurt that made it 21-12 in game one, which the Lady Cardinals easily closed out as St. Louis misfired on consecutive attacks.

Maura Rabun and Raeanne Andrews recorded four kills each, and Alison Ayotte made seven digs for the Archers (3-24), who suffered their 21st consecutive loss.

Kickham introduced a string of jump serves to the action while helping MAC build a 19-10 lead in game two. Finch landed back-to-back serves, and Bracken earned game point with a hard spike.

Separation was gained in game three when seven consecutive points created a 12-4 margin. St. Louis struggled to develop a consistent attack while the Lady Cardinals continued to swing aggressively.

Bracken made the lead 23-9 by depositing an overpass, and the home fans stood and applauded to acknowledge history as a final spike by the Archers carried long.

Shelby Meyer finished with a team-high 18 digs, and Zuluaga distributed 29 assists in the victory.

“Health is certainly important, but so is the team staying motivated to win every night. They don’t want to lose,” Copeland said regarding the ingredients of his team’s success. “Everyone has done a good job of accepting their roles.”

The fun challenge of maintaining a perfect record now parlays into a higher objective, as Mineral Area stands two more wins from a return trip to the NJCAA tournament.

That pursuit continues Saturday at Jefferson College in the Region 16 title match against an opponent to be determined. Going forward, there is no margin for error.

Despite dealing with minor injuries, the Lady Cardinals have avoided any long-term setbacks. Team chemistry has also remained strong throughout the record streak.

“We have good energy at practice every day,” Popadic said. “We’re a very compatible team. We get along and we like each other.”

With five sophomores back from last year’s squad that placed 10th in the nation, several roles were defined before eight newcomers arrived.

“I came here expecting my role to be whatever Coach wanted me to do,” said Finch, a standout in all six rotations at Farmington High School. “He told me that I was going to play defense and not be on the front row as much as I used to. But I was totally OK with that.”

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

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