FESTUS, Mo. – Julia McKlin never lost hope that her team’s volleyball season would turn around, even when Ste. Genevieve had just three victories to show for its first 14 matches.
Injuries had plagued the Dragons and forced several unexpected lineup changes over the first six weeks this fall. But they patiently weathered that adversity and gradually healed.
McKlin and her classmates concluded Tuesday night hoisting a plaque in celebration mode after Ste. Genevieve downed Festus 25-23, 25-17 for its fourth consecutive district title.
The Dragons entered the Class 3, District 2 bracket seeded fifth among seven teams, but became the last squad standing after stunning top-seeded Central earlier in the evening.
“It feels so amazing, especially because we’re seniors and we gave it our everything,” McKlin said. “I feel like we are finding our 100-percent best that we can be.”
Ste. Genevieve (14-14-4) earned the privilege of hosting three other schools on Saturday for the state sectional and quarterfinal rounds.
McKlin hammered 11 kills and junior Marysa Flieg landed 10 more as the potent middle attack of the Dragons trumped the mainly outside approach of Festus (21-11-2).
The Dragons visibly began to sense triumph when McKlin belted two straight swings to the floor and sophomore Abby Moore rifled another past outside single blocking for a 21-16 lead in game two.
Ste. Genevieve stayed aggressive while keeping Festus senior sensation Bria Garmon confined to the back row for a prolonged stint. A second ace in three serves by libero Jaida Greminger solidified the outcome.
“I preached to the girls when we were struggling that it didn’t matter until October,” Ste. Genevieve head coach Jessica Fallert said. “I knew if we could just get everybody healthy before districts, that we had enough talent on the team. It was a rough road, but they stuck through it, thick and thin.”
Garmon collected eight kills to share team-high honors with Kinsey Benack for Festus, which eliminated Ste. Genevieve from last year’s state playoffs when each was assigned to adjacent districts.
The Dragons showed signs of returning to old form during a blowout win over Jackson earlier this month, and yet again during last week’s fifth-place finish at the MAAA Tournament with the full roster restored.
Brittney Kreitler, who missed a few weeks due to injury, generated 27 assists on Tuesday. Maci Reynolds, who filled that setter role in her absence, had a couple of stellar diving saves among seven digs.
“It was tough, mentally and physically,” Reynolds said. “I had to train my body to do certain things and play new positions for the first time.”
The Lady Tigers had early momentum when Benack terminated for an 8-5 edge after Ste. Genevieve had stopped two previous attacks within the rally on a block and dig.
McKlin helped evaporate that deficit with two hard kills before Greminger served her first of three total aces to go along with five digs.
Ella Reed snapped a 20-20 deadlock by striking off the block, and finished with five kills. Flieg tipped two kills past multiple defenders for 24-22 lead.
Festus turned aside the initial game point, but an smooth first pass by Megan Schweigert enabled McKlin to bury the clinching left-side attack.
“I think our team had a lot of faith, because we knew how good we were,” McKlin said. “We weren’t a full 100 percent with injuries playing a key role. But we played amazing during the conference tournament, and I think that rolled over into tonight.”
Ste. Genevieve now has 18 district championships in program history.
Devin Younger made nine digs for Festus.
Ste. Genevieve 2, Central 1
Ste. Genevieve traded powerful swings with top-seeded Central, and paved the way toward its eventual championship by outlasting the Lady Rebels 23-25, 25-23, 25-18 in a semifinal upset.
Ella Reed stamped the victory with her team-high 13th kill. Julia McKlin sent down 12 kills and Marysa Flieg slammed 11 more while both players notched three blocks.
Brittney Kreitler distributed 37 assists, and Jaida Greminger tallied 13 digs plus two aces for the Dragons, who were four points away from defeat when trailing game two 21-20.
Game three seemed headed for a riveting finish after Central (27-4-2) pulled even at 10-10 on a left-side tip and ensuing stuff by junior Kaley Kimball, who starred with 21 kills and five blocks overall.
But a stunning stretch of passing woes spelled trouble for the Lady Rebels, who dropped 10 of the next 12 points while struggling to restore an offensive rhythm under increasing pressure.
Meanwhile, the Dragons were clicking with active court coverage while Kreitler mixed up her sets. Flieg blocked a Central swing, and Abby Moore added two of her five kills before a Reed ace made it 20-12.
Avery Norris blistered a kill for the Lady Rebels on a back-set from Addi Casey at 22-16, but the Dragons retaliated with scoring swings by Moore and McKlin to pull away.
Lizi Marler posted six kills to equal Norris, who also totaled 20 assists with six digs, but Central received marginal offense from the middle when Kimball was stationed along the back row.
Casey had 14 assists as Central hoped to conclude a 17-year district drought to no avail. Jessica Hulsey finished with 12 digs while Liberty Coleman made 10 and Buckli Moss chipped in nine more.
Kimball accounted for eight kills in game one, and Central built a 21-15 advantage when Ste. Genevieve allowed a third ball to fall between three players after Casey and Coleman shared an earlier block.
Greminger created an overpass kill for McKlin, then served an ace off the tape as the Dragons pushed to within 22-21, but Kimball directly answered kills by Reed and Flieg to punctuate the stanza.
Ste. Genevieve faced a 16-13 deficit in danger of being swept, but surged back with a kill by Reed and two more from Flieg after a sprawling save by Moss across the net prolonged one rally.
Reynolds crashed to the floor for another crucial dig after Flieg put the Dragons ahead 22-21, and the Lady Rebels surrendered a pivotal point on an errant set at 24-21.
Kimball fended off one game point for Central, and another was survived on an attacking error, but Reed drilled a perfect set from Kreitler from the right side to make the third game necessary.
Reynolds compiled 10 digs, three kills and three shared blocks for the Dragons. Megan Schweigert and McKlin each made seven digs, and Reed added six more.
Festus 2, North County 0
Bria Garmon landed three kills during a pivotal conclusion to game one, and had 12 overall as Festus eliminated North County 25-23, 25-18 in the Class 3, District 2 semifinal round.
Devin Younger picked up 16 digs and Kinsey Benack knocked down seven kills for the Lady Tigers, who rallied from four points down to narrowly capture the opening stanza.
North County (16-17) featured a balanced attack with eight kills from Kayleigh Winch, seven more from senior Lauren Forrester and six by sophomore Emma Gaugel.
The Lady Raiders stayed in contention through some timely blocking. Kayleigh Winch sparked a 4-0 run with a solo while Kamryn Winch and Gaugel made the game two margin 16-15 with a combo.
But Festus claimed the next two points on hitting errors, and Garmon slammed a back-row attack to the surface to restore a 21-16 advantage before rotating forward for the ending spike.
Emily Veach dished out 13 assists and Ariel Stewart made seven more for the Lady Raiders, who grabbed a 15-11 game one edge after Forrester ripped a tying cross-court kill ahead of four service points.
The Lady Tigers won a wild rally after Younger delivered three digs and Maddi Oder made two stops on the other side. An ensuing net violation yielded a 19-19 tie with Garmon still along the back row.
She broke a 22-22 deadlock off a transition dig from Benack, and applied the clinching block after North County resisted the previous set point on a Kayleigh Winch spike.
Gaugel totaled seven blocks for the Lady Raiders. Oder collected seven digs while Forrester produced six more and Maci Kamler had five.
North County reached the semifinal round with a first-round victory over Potosi on Monday.