IRONTON – For an Arcadia Valley volleyball program achieving new milestones with regularity, the one that always got away has finally been secured.
The top-seeded Lady Tigers captured their first MAAA Tournament crown in relentless and emotional fashion Thursday night after having never appeared in the championship final.
Their excitement became increasingly audible with every punishing attack and point earned during the second set while pulling away from rising challenger Central 25-21, 25-11.
“It was very exciting knowing that we were the first ones at AV to do this,” senior middle Laney Tucker said. “At the beginning of this season, the pressure of everything was on our shoulders, knowing what kind of team we could be. But as we have grown and played together, we’ve really become a family.”
Sophomore Maddie DeMent crushed 11 kills, Josie Landrum and Tucker knocked down five each, and setter Macey Browers compiled 22 assists in another dominant display.
Arcadia Valley (26-5-1) established a new single-season record for victories – against arguably its most daunting schedule to date – and notched a fourth straight 25-win campaign.
Browers, Landrum and Tucker surpassed 100 varsity wins together in an earlier straight-set triumph over Ste. Genevieve, and shared an assuring embrace before taking the court for the final.
Their attention will now shift to even loftier goals, as Arcadia Valley enters Class 2, District 3 postseason action next week chasing a second Class 2 final four berth in four seasons.
Central (21-7-2) was paced by its pair of accomplished seniors and four-year starters as Hannah Stewart produced six kills plus eight assists, and Callie Thurston notched four kills in game one.
The Lady Rebels added another high note to their impressive season by edging No. 2 seed Farmington in an earlier three-set slugfest, and initially caused the Lady Tigers plenty of concern.
“We were looking for Central to be very scrappy. That’s how it was the first time we played them,” said junior libero Katie Whited, who performed a clinic in court coverage and stopped several sizzling attacks with snappy one-arm extension through two Gold Bracket contests.
“Since I’ve been a freshman, I’ve always tried to move and be there to help my teammates in any way possible,” she added. “As the libero, that’s my main job. I couldn’t imagine playing with a better group of girls. They are the best hitters in the conference, I believe, and our setter is out of this world.”
Stewart buried a diagonal swing to put her squad ahead 13-12, and a mesmerizing rally ensued that saw Liberty Coleman, Avery Norris, Buckli Moss and Lizi Marler prevent blistering AV swings from touching the surface.
Possession changed sides 32 times in all, and lasted 71 seconds without interruption as Landrum and Whited likewise laid out brilliantly with only their fists separating the ball from the floor.
It finally concluded with a DeMent smash from the middle, and invoked applause from an appreciative crowd. The Lady Tigers soon seized command by winning several more defensive battles.
Browers sprinted to somehow keep an overhead pass in play before colliding with the scorer’s table, and the resulting clear by Gracee Smith fell untouched on the Central side for a 20-17 lead.
Central charged back even at 21-21 after Thurston caught the sideline with a swing and Stewart scored off the block, but the sequence proved to be the symbolic final gasp in an upset bid.
“We were a little wobbly at first and dug a hole, but stayed strong to finish out that first set, and were determined not to repeat what happened in the second,” Arcadia Valley coach Tara Lamb said. “We are working hard to touch the ball on every block and make sure that the defense runs it down after that.”
DeMent answered with a powerful attack, then got another to land following a Landrum dig. Whited and Thurston traded one-armed stops before a spike found the net on game point.
The Lady Tigers did not surrender a game to sweep four tournament outings, and were flawless during a clinching point after being pushed to 24-23 by Ste. Genevieve in game one of their semifinal.
“We know how to process the pressure mentally and finish out close games,” Tucker said. “Plus, we play out these situations in practice where our coach challenges us to push every single point. We’ve done this so much over the years that we’ve learned to never give up.
“Central is a great team, and things were a little nerve-racking. But when we play as a team and as a family, we learn to go after everything and stick together.”
Arcadia Valley took another active rally for a 5-1 start to game two after Whited awkwardly did the splits to control a pass, and soon enjoyed a 13-5 cushion when Tucker notched a solo block.
Tucker posted a right-side kill before rotating back to serve an ace, and Dement rained down several hard spikes to make it 21-8 as shaky receiving plagued the Lady Rebels.
Landrum provided her most lethal strike early on, and recorded a match-high 11 digs while Whited had nine more for AV. Kirsten Day sprinkled in three kills from her outside position.
Norris had nine assists plus three kills, and Moss contributed nine digs for the Lady Rebels, who will meet Potosi on Monday while hosting the Class 3, District 2 tournament.
Central 2, Farmington 1
PARK HILLS – Central made its run to the MAAA title match possible with a stunning recovery in game one, and showed more resolve late to conquer a more experienced adversary.
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Game three featured 10 ties over the first 24 points, but Central would keep a slight advantage from there as a variety of unforced errors slowed Farmington in a 31-29, 12-25, 25-23 outcome.
The Lady Rebels moved ahead 18-14 when Avery Norris dumped the ball on second contact, and Callie Thurston restored a 19-15 margin by tipping gently over a single blocker.
Sophomore Liberty Coleman provided most of the power for Central with 16 kills while making 11 digs, and was clutch after standout Jesse Miller fueled a Farmington comeback.
Miller executed a solo block, and Macey Pauls tapped for a point to coax a Central timeout. But Coleman retreated beyond the back line for a hustling overhead clear, and Thurston hammered a spike down the line seconds later to keep the Lady Rebels in front.
Miller compiled 17 kills, 11 assists and seven blocks overall, and brought the Knights within 23-22 on a missile before Coleman countered off a defender.
Her third swing on match point caromed off multiple hands and triggered the celebration. Lizi Marler provided eight kills, and Thurston finished with seven kills and nine digs in the victory.
Wooldridge supplied nine blocks while equaling Pauls with six kills each in defeat. Blair Busenbark made 19 digs, Pauls brought up 11 more and Sarah Bauer dished out 22 assists.
The Knights turned game two into a thrashing after Wooldridge earned two blocks and a kill during a 6-0 start. Jenna Nguyen served eight straight points, and Miller had a solo stuff as the difference hit 15-2.
Farmington would ultimately lament the loss of a sizable 17-9 cushion in game one that was achieved through a strong net presence and steady passing.
Central chipped away and eventually overtook the Knights 21-19 after Norris smashed a back-set from Hannah Stewart, who totaled 20 assists and five kills.
Wooldridge got the next point on an attack, and Pauls followed with a tying ace. Wooldridge terminated to answer Thurston at 24-24 and Stewart at 26-26.
Buckli Moss made a saving dig to deny a smash from Miller on another game point, and was dependable again on a sudden clearing attempt before a double block by Stewart and Kaley Kimball made it 28-28.
An outstanding set from Sarah Bauer to Miller followed, but Coleman rifled two through in response to help the Lady Rebels claim the last three points of the crucial game.
Norris totaled 17 assists, 11 digs and four kills while Moss paced the Central defense with 14 digs.
Arcadia Valley 2, Ste. Genevieve 1
PARK HILLS – The opening act on the final day of the MAAA tournament delivered a stellar duel in the first set as minimal separation occurred between Arcadia Valley and Ste. Genevieve.
The teams combined for 30 kills in smooth performances, and neither side obtained a lead larger than two points through the duration of the stanza.
Arcadia Valley ran a perfect transition on game point as the first pass from Josie Landrum and set by Macey Browers enabled middle hitter Maddie DeMent to unleash a blistering direct kill.
The Lady Tigers attacked with lethal balance from there, and built a double-figure lead in game two in the Gold Bracket semifinal round for a 25-23, 25-16 victory.
DeMent scorched 11 kills and Browers had 21 assists with eight digs for AV, which further validated its No. 1 seed by defeating every other MAAA team at least once this fall.
Laney Tucker was formidable up front with six kills and six blocks, and Katie Whited patrolled the back row with several sparking dives to finish with 15 digs.
Landrum chipped in five kills plus seven digs, and perfectly landed an arching two-handed push just inches inside the opposite deep corner for a 13-7 lead in game two.
Browers caught Ste. Genevieve off guard with a second contact flick over the net, and Tucker notched an ensuing ace before two DeMent swings made the margin 23-13.
Senior Jennifer Humbolt powered the Dragons with seven kills and 14 digs in a strong all-around effort, and libero Jaida Greminger added to a defiant defense with 10 digs.
Ella Reed sent down a joust after the ball was deflected high by Sydney Bumgardaner, whose kill on the next rally gave Ste. Genevieve an 11-10 lead in game one.
Arcadia Valley retaliated in similar fashion to move in front 14-12, as DeMent struck from the right side on the heels of two sliding digs from Whited.
Consecutive kills by Landrum and Tucker yielded a 21-19 AV edge. Ste. Genevieve came back with clean hits from Bumgardaner and Humbolt, but Kirsten Day responded to prevent another tie.
Bumgardaner posted team highs with 10 kills and four blocks, and Kloe Unterreiner made 13 assists for the Dragons. Reed ripped five kills, Brittney Kreitler dealt nine assists and Megan Schweigert made six digs.