Now they’re champions.
The Houston High School Volleyball Lady Tigers added to their impressive 2021 resume by being crowned outright South Central Association champions after beating Salem in straight sets Tuesday night in the new HHS gym.
The convincing victory (25-15, 25-18, 25-6) finished an undefeated run through the SCA and was Houston’s 10th sweep of the season in best-of-5 games.
“The girls said after our Willow game that they didn’t want to share the conference title,” said head coach Loran Richardson, “and they came out and showed it last night.”
The Lady Tigers got their potent offense rolling early in the first set and built a commanding 17-7 lead on an ace by senior Hannah Dzurick. A short time later, Dzurick scored the final point in the set with a little soft shot into an opening.
In the second set, the score was tied at 14-all as both teams’ defenses came up with play after play to regain possession of the ball.
But the Lady Tigers went on a 7-2 run and held a 21-16 advantage after an ace by sophomore outside hitter Angie Smith. Houston coasted to the set victory from there, scoring the 25th point on a wide hit by Salem.
The lopsided final set was highlighted by a dazzling offensive outburst by Dzurick, who scored almost at will by frequently finding holes in the visiting Lady Tigers’ defense and placing the ball into open space with a deadly combination of strength and a soft touch.
The game ended and the SCA title was Houston’s when Dzurick nailed a ball down the right sideline and it fell untouched.
Dzurick finished with a season-high 17 kills (including a whopping 8 in the third set) and also put up a game-high 15 assists. She also scored several other points in the final set on balls that Salem defenders touched but couldn’t handle.
Smith had another well-rounded outing, recording 14 kills, 15 digs and 5 aces, while senior libero Mali Brookshire had a game-high 21 digs. Junior middle hitter Olivia Crites had 8 kills for the Lady Tigers, while 6-foot senior Sarah Purcell and 6-foot sophomore Kelsey Pritchett recorded 2 blocks apiece.
“We really played well the whole match,” Richardson said. “There are always a few rough spots in a game – volleyball is so momentum-based – but we really put together a full, well-played match. We played aggressive at the net and made some great digs and saves on the back row.
“It’s a good feeling when it just clicks.”
Dzurick said her ability to control the ball’s flight is no accident.
“I study the game,” she said. “Watching film lets me know where the open spots are. During the game, I put myself in their shoes. For example, I place the ball where I wouldn’t be as a defender. Once you place the ball there a couple times, they start to read that spot so you put the ball in a different spot.
“It’s a mental game.”
Winners of five straight games and 14 consecutive sets, the Lady Tigers (26-5-2, 7-0 SCA) will host the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 9 Tournament this week.
Houston is seeded second in the 5-team bracket and will face No. 3 Liberty (22-10-1, 5-2 SCA) in a semifinal contest at 5 p.m. Saturday. Top seeded Licking (29-5) will play in the other semifinal at 3 p.m. against the winner of a Thursday play-in game between No. 4 Mansfield and No. 5 Thayer.
“It was a great team win over Salem, and a great lead-up to districts,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to spend the next few days preparing for Liberty. They will be a tough matchup the first round, but we are very capable of beating them.”
The last time Houston won an SCA volleyball title was 2006 and the team’s record is the best since 2007.