FESTUS, Mo. – Sometimes the most effective option for a volleyball setter becomes obvious right away, especially one with the experience of Arcadia Valley senior Macey Browers.
Middle hitter Maddie DeMent established a powerful presence during a back-and-forth sequence in the early moments of the Class 2, District 3 championship final on Wednesday night.
Jefferson attempted several times to combat DeMent with single blocking, and Browers recognized an opportunity to let the dangerous sophomore hammer away.
“I think that their block always assumes that I’m either going to go to Maddie or tip. So I have to mix things up when I can,” Browers said. “But Jefferson has always been super strong, and when we play a team like that, I have to find somebody who is on. Maddie has a lot of nights when she’s on fire. When she called for the ball, I needed to set her.”
The Lady Tigers took nothing for granted after being bounced from the semifinal round last season, and captured the second district title in program history following a runaway second set.
DeMent finished with nine kills and four blocks, and the back-row defense of Arcadia Valley was steady when called upon during a convincing 25-18, 25-11 victory.
Browers totaled 19 assists while Laney Tucker made four kills and Josie Landrum chipped in three more. Those three seniors secured their second banner after winning the first as freshmen.
“This one feels different in a way. I know what potential we have, and we knew we could do this,” said Landrum, who was visibly emotional when preparing to accept the first-place plaque. “But the weight of the pressure is lifted off because we did it.”
Arcadia Valley (28-5-1) increased its school record for victories in a season, and will chase a second final four appearance while competing in the state sectional round on Saturday.
The Lady Tigers will face a yet-to-be-determined champion of District 4 – where Maplewood is the top seed – on a neutral floor at Malden High School on Saturday afternoon.
Alexis Armstrong and Jenna Courtois each collected four kills, while Kendall Runzi and Maddy Fuller brought up five digs apiece for Jefferson (30-7).
The tournament host Blue Jays rode an thrilling wave into the title contest after eliminating rival and reigning state champion St. Pius in straight sets.
Courtois made two incredible kick saves in desperation during the final rally of that spirited battle after St. Pius had turned aside three previous match points.
Arcadia Valley wisely chose to let the buzz around that outcome settle for the allotted 30-minute rest period between the semifinal and championship rounds.
“They were on such a high, and should have been, because they straight up outplayed St. Pius,” Arcadia Valley head coach Tara Lamb said. “Those 30 minutes can bring down that adrenaline a little bit, and sort of evens out the playing field. So we definitely wanted the break.”
A majority of points ended promptly once the final began, either due to immediate kills or errors. The action remained tightly contested throughout much of game one.
After running a healthy share of the offense through their outside hitters against St. Vincent, the Lady Tigers rode the success of DeMent to keep pace early on.
She was responsible for terminating the first three AV points. Tucker connected on two swings after rotating forward, and DeMent picked up three more kills during her next stint across the front.
“Macey always knows where to go with the ball, and I think she faked them out. That made a lot of my hits easier,” DeMent said. “We were definitely more determined coming up here this year, and played like it could be our last game.”
Ashley Edmond kept Jefferson within 15-14 on an ace, but the Blue Jays sent a potential tying spike long after Courtois alertly arrived to cover a dink on second contact.
The miscue sparked an important 7-0 outburst by the Lady Tigers. Gracee Smith served an ace before an ensuing overpass was swatted down by Browers. Landrum scored from the left side for a 22-14 lead.
Laney Smith highlighted a 4-0 Jefferson response with a scalding attack before sharing a block. However, Browers assisted Tucker near the bench with a brilliant back-set that traveled roughly 25 feet.
Landrum made it 24-18 with the Lady Tigers’ third ace overall, and Day rifled a left-side attack through the defense finish off game one.
“We sometimes have trouble coming out strong in the second set after winning the first. We tend to sit back a little bit,” Landrum said. “But we definitely did not do that this time.”
“Last year, we didn’t really focus on the semifinals, and paid for it,” she added. “This year, we were like one point, one game at a time, and then we could focus on the next one.”
Smith delivered two kills as the teams traded points early in game two. Arcadia Valley then slammed the door in resounding fashion by scoring 17 of the last 21.
Landrum tallied her second and third aces of the night as a 6-0 run made it 14-7, and the bellows of pure elation only grew louder when back-to-back DeMent blocks pushed the separation to 21-9.
DeMent applied her final kill before operating alongside Landrum for a big stuff on match point. Katie Whited contributed five digs for the Lady Tigers.
“We flew under the radar in 2015, and surprised a lot of people,” Lamb said. “I knew what talent we had, but maybe others didn’t, so there was less pressure to win.
“My girls have had a target on their backs the entire season. We amped up the schedule to become stronger, and they’ve handled it like champs.”
Arcadia Valley 2, St. Vincent 0
FESTUS, Mo. – Josie Landrum knocked down six or her 10 kills during a dominant opening set as Arcadia Valley eliminated St. Vincent 25-9, 25-20 in the semifinal round earlier Wednesday.
Kirsten Day and Maddie DeMent finished with seven kills each, and Laney Tucker added four more along with three blocks for the Lady Tigers.
St. Vincent hoped to force a third game, and trimmed a 21-15 with four straight points in game two as a kill by Mollie Baer on second contact preceded two Arcadia Valley hitting errors.
But the Lady Tigers answered with an angled kill from Day off the first pass following a timeout at 22-19, and Gracee Smith jumped to meet an overpass and secure match point.
Macey Browers totaled 25 assists in the victory. Libero Katie Whited finished with eight digs, and Smith had six more, along with a key ace near the midway juncture of game one.
Tucker opened the contest with an ace, and her next serve was overpassed to Day for an easy putaway. Landrum picked up her fourth kill while elevating from the 10-foot line for a 10-5 lead.
Browers dumped the second ball neatly for a 17-8 margin, and Landrum made it 21-9 with a tip shot near the sideline after Whited used a full dive to keep the rally going.
DeMent applied game point with power, capping a 6-0 AV closing spurt.
Lexie Anderson and Kara Kassel had three kills each, and Grace Schremp added three blocks for St. Vincent (13-17-1), which upgraded this year in size from Class 1.