As a contingent of Houston fans watches at right, Lady Tiger senior Viviana Guerra (21) battles at the net with Conway freshman Katie Myers (12) and junior Lakyn Shelton (23) during the third set of a Class 2 District 9 tournament match Monday at Licking.

In a tightly-contested, 3-set affair, the Houston High School volleyball team’s season ended in a loss to Conway in the first round of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 9 tournament match Monday night at Licking.

After Houston took the first set 25-23, the Lady Bears came back to win the second set 25-22 and then sealed the postseason victory with a 25-17 win in the third set.

Conway took an early 3-1 advantage in the first set, but the Lady Tigers stormed back with a 9-0 run topped off by consecutive points scored by freshman Karly Drake and a long ball by the Lady Bears. Conway climbed back to lead 20-19 on a kill by freshman Katie Myers, but Houston recovered and took the set on a kill by 5-10 sophomore Sarah Purcell.

The Lady Tigers held a 4-2 lead in the second set after a point by Purcell, but Conway (14-12-4) gained control and built a 19-11 advantage on an ace by freshman Callie Cornelison. Houston again came back, and trailed by only a point at 23-22 following a point by senior Janae Huff, but the Lady Bears scored the last two points to win the set.

Houston seemed to run out of gas midway through the third set, and Conway went ahead 19-9 after an ace by freshman Gibby Beckler. The Lady Tigers regained their composure and cut into the lead, but the match ended on a Houston service error.

Houston senior Janae Huff sends a ball over Conway defenders Gibby Beckler (17) and Alexa Higbee (14) during the Lady Tigers’ district tournament loss Monday at Licking.

Purcell had her best outing of the season, recording 14 kills and a .619 hitting percentage.

Senior libero Kelly Hubbs had 31 digs for Houston (and a 2.24 passing rating), while junior Kellsi Gayer notched 2 aces and Huff was credited with 18 assists. Freshman Karly Drake saw the most court time of the season for the Lady Tigers and had 3 blocks.

“That was a tough loss to end our season,” said HHS head coach Loran Richardson. “The girls fought so hard in the first set and executed our game plan really well. The second set was back and forth until the very end, but we made some silly errors at the end that hurt us.

“In the third set, we dug ourselves in a deep hole and quit playing for a while. We finally started competing, but at that point, it was too late – we had given them the momentum to finish.

“But I’m proud that we didn’t give up totally at the end and pushed back.”

Five HHS seniors were involved in their final high school match: Hubbs, Huff, Viviana Guerra, Taylor Medlock and Baylee Weaver.

“They will be greatly missed,” Richardson said. “They have done such a great job, not only this year but over the last four years. It has been fun to see them grow and mature into good teammates and leaders.”

HHS junior Lexie Spratt hits a ball past Conway defenders Gibby Beckler (17) and Lakyn Shelton (23) during the third set of a MSHSAA Class 2 District 9 tournament match Monday at Licking.

Underclassmen like Purcell and fellow sophomore Hannah Dzurick have played huge roles for Houston this season.

“We’ve been up and down all season, and part of that is due to inexperience at the varsity level for most of the girls,” Richardson said. “The underclassmen have made big strides this year, which will lead to good things in the future.” 

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