PARK HILLS – Jane Kickham guesses that her exceptional hang time as an outside hitter may have originated several years ago at her childhood home.
“When I was a kid in our old house, we had these beams across about an 8-foot ceiling,” the Mineral Area volleyball sophomore said. “My brothers are tall guys, about 6-4 or 6-5, and I thought it was cool that they could just stand up and touch them.
“But I would really have to leap. Before I would sit on the couch and watch TV, I would try to touch all three of those beams.”
Kickham and 14th-ranked Lady Cardinals elevated their collective play against a familiar opponent on Wednesday night, blitzing volleyball rival Jefferson 25-21, 25-13, 25-21 to remain unbeaten.
Cailey Bracken recorded 14 kills and 15 digs, and Shelby Meyer made a team-high 18 digs as Mineral Area (17-0) extended its best start to a season in program history.
“I didn’t envision a 17-0 record. Going into the season I was thinking more like 13-4,” Mineral Area head coach Tim Copeland said. “I’m pleased that when we play teams like Jefferson or others who are ranked, our level of play has risen a little higher. That’s what you have to do.”
Kickham finished with 13 kills, and landed two thunderous attacks from opposite sides while adding a block during a 5-0 scoring run after Jefferson had grabbed a 9-8 lead in game one.
“JeffCo is always a good team, and tonight was our region opener. So of course, we were going to bring even more excitement and energy to the game,” Kichham said.
“The region tournament match last year against them was insane. It went to four games,” she added. “We won the last one 32-30. It was so back and forth, and there like 10 match points or something crazy. I’ve tried to repress those memories, because just thinking about it makes me anxious.”
Pam Zuluaga notched 12 of her 32 assists during the opening set for MAC, including four on kills by Melissa Avendano. A service ace from Meyer pushed the margin to 17-11.
Jefferson pulled within 20-18 and 22-20 on Mineral Area hitting errors, but Raylyn Dodd answered with a solo block before Anica Popadic and Kickham combined for another on the next rally.
“We all gain confidence when any of us does something good. We just wanted to still be undefeated after tonight,” said Dodd, a former Fredericktown standout. “It was exciting. This was the most people we’ve had here so far. The atmosphere is a lot more fun when everyone is here cheering.”
Bracken delivered some of her strongest kills of the contest during a 6-0 Mineral Area start to game two. A Zuluaga serve created an overpass that Popadic knocked down with ease.
The Vikings could not recover from a prolonged collapse until well after a second rotation violation put the visitors in an unfavorable 14-4 deficit.
Avendano added another of her seven kills at 23-11, and Kickham scored with a 1-on-1 stuff block to help the Lady Cardinals build a two-game advantage.
Kayla Juenger helped Jefferson stick around by securing six of her 11 kills during game three. Jefferson would look often to its star hitter to no surprise.
“We knew that their right side was an all-American, and they had another outside hitter who was out,” Copeland said. “We expected more balls to go to (Juenger) than anyone else, so focusing on her was our main priority. We blocked her a few times, or were able to pass, set and hit it.”
Zuluaga picked up 11 digs, and was successful all three times when suddenly setting the second touch to the Vikings’ side, including a rally that put MAC ahead 11-6 during the final stanza.
That play followed a dazzling save by Ainslee Finch that transitioned into another Bracken smash.
Potosi graduate Kylie Cain sparked Jefferson with a block to keep her team within 20-17, but ensuing kills by Dodd and Kickham helped to seal the outcome.
The Lady Cardinals have captured 51 of 52 games this season. They will travel to Hutchinson, Kan. and face four opponents from Texas this weekend.
“We talked about our goals as a team two days ago, and each one of us said ‘nationals,’” Kickham said. “It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to go into each practice, each game and each of these tournaments with that mindset. We are headstrong about getting to nationals and playing at a level that will take us there.”
Sophomore Emily Eaton was unable to play for MAC after recently rolling an ankle. Her status for action on Friday is unknown.
Cain totaled four kills with three blocks, and Ste. Genevieve alum Riley Meyer made 10 assists for Jefferson (5-6).