PARK HILLS – While the overall performance was less than exemplary, the eighth-ranked Mineral Area volleyball team pulled through adversity to stay unbeaten in Region 16 on Wednesday night.
A ragged third set forced the Lady Cardinals to work harder than perhaps expected, but a strong closing stretch at the net secured a 25-23, 25-17, 20-25, 25-22 victory over Jefferson.
Cindy Penaloza hammered her team-high 17th kill down the middle on match point, and Mineral Area (18-1, 3-0) survived a tougher test than its straight-set sweep three weeks ago in Hillsboro.
Outside hitter Katie Duncan had efficient results with 11 kills on just 19 attacks, and reigning NJCAA Player of the Week Laura Danezzi finished with 49 assists and 13 digs in the win.
Mineral Area mixed a variety of speed and angles during a strong offensive sequence that increased a 10-9 advantage to 18-12 in game two, and appeared to be cruising along.
Penaloza started the pullaway with a gentle tip, and Duncan sent power into the opposite corner. Danezzi twice caught the Jefferson defense flat while dumping the second touch over for kills.
Another kill and ensuing block from Penaloza pushed the margin to 21-15, and she smashed game point after Ainslee Finch made a diving save to her left and fought off another hard spike seconds later.
But the energy level and focus seemed to curtail, and miscues became contagious for the home team. Jefferson (3-13, 0-3) conversely gained confidence despite already falling two sets down.
The Vikings were spurred by sophomore Urte Neimantaite, whose pair of left-side kills and subsequent 6-0 service run flipped a 12-9 deficit to a 17-13 lead in game three.
MAC attacked wide four times in a span of seven attacks, and spiked directly into a solo block by Kwinisha Quarles before committing a net violation on a drifting set.
Kymbra Kirby won a key joust after libero Makenzie Rodgers lunged forward to cover another surprise flick from Danezzi, and Jefferson reached 24-19 as recipient of a service error.
Neimantaite tallied 15 kills, Imani Williamson knocked down 12 more, and Kirby added 10 kills with four blocks to lead the Jefferson front row. Rodgers picked up 15 digs.
The Lady Cardinals encountered more struggles through an extensive stretch of game four, trailing by three points for the third time at 12-9.
But the Vikings missed a serve, and Melissa Avendano emerged from a relatively quiet evening at the net to knock down an overpass and record a tying block on the next rally.
Raylyn Dodd had been temporarily pulled following a shaky rotation in game three, but responded with a flurry of clutch swings late in the contest to finish with 11 kills overall.
Isidora Stojovic compiled 13 kills of her own after collecting 14 during the previous meeting. Her most important one may have occurred at game point in the first set, but another answered a Williamson spike that briefly gave Jefferson a 17-16 edge late.
The Vikings were on the verge of establishing a three-point separation moments earlier, but a ball near the back line was called good for Mineral Area to the vocal dismay of the visitors.
Emily Greif followed with a familiar floating ace, and Mineral Area soon enjoyed a 20-18 lead when Dodd pounced on an overpass as Jefferson botched two more serve receptions.
Duncan fired back with a kill after Williamson connected, and Stojovic landed another down the line at 23-20 after Sydni Basler turned an incoming attack into a solid pass.
Neimantaite staved off the initial match point for Jefferson, but a smooth transition to offense allowed Penaloza to strike with authority and seal the outcome.
Shelby Meyer compiled 17 digs and 16 serve receptions for the Lady Cards as Jefferson often sought to serve away from the sophomore libero.
Finch finished with 16 digs as the Mineral Area back row compensated for a lack of consistent blocking early on. Basler chipped in nine digs plus three aces, and Avendano had seven kills.
Basler served five consecutive points to highlight a blistering 6-1 start to game one. Mineral Area saw that lead evaporate, however, while failing to post a scoring stuff during the stanza.
Each team generated 14 kills in the opening set. Danezzi made a pancake dig that helped earn a point at 7-3, and Duncan used a compact motion to whistle a kill past a double block and make it 13-9.
Kirby tipped safely and ripped a furious swing that caught Meyer on the way through to lead a Jefferson comeback. Rodgers made a dig that carried over the net and fell on the MAC side for a 16-16 tie.
The Vikings endured a costly series of errors while dropping the next four points, and trailed 23-20 when another open shot landed wide on second contact.
Jefferson turned aside two game points after Stojovic scored for Mineral Area, and threatened to save another when Danezzi was forced to dig twice for the Lady Cardinals.
Basler calmly guided a perfect bump set roughly 20 feet across the court toward Stojovic, who placed her swing deep into the back row for a pivotal one-game advantage.
Mineral Area defeated its nearest rival for a seventh consecutive time. A busy week continues Thursday at Kaskaskia before Indian Hills visits Saturday for an 11 a.m. opening serve.