In a season when wins have by no means been rare, the Houston High School volleyball team picked up six more victories during a busy stretch last week to raise their total to 18.
But the Lady Tigers also absorbed their third defeat of the season, and it unfortunately came during the championship game of the inaugural Houston Volleyball Showdown, an 8-team tournament Saturday in the new HHS gym.
Houston began the tournament by beating Thayer, Plato and Bradleyville in 2-set pool play matchups, and then downed Willow Springs 2-0 in best-of-three bracket competition before falling to Mountain Grove 2-0 in the title game.
“The girls really played strong all day,” said HHS head coach Loran Richardson. “We did a much better job of staying consistent and not playing up and down no matter who our opponent was. It’s been a long week and it would have been nice to cap it off with a first-place finish but I’m proud of the girls’ play for the most part.”
Two of Houston’s wins last week were big ones, as the Lady Tigers were victorious in South Central Association contests Tuesday at Liberty and Thursday at Cabool.
Against Liberty (in Mountain View), Houston prevailed 3-1 in a tightly-contested and crucial game. After the host Lady Eagles won the first set 25-15, the Lady Tigers took the next three, 26-24, 25-19, 27-25.
Houston had three players smack more than 10 kills in the game, as 5-11 junior middle hitter Olivia Crites belted 14, senior setter Hannah Dzurick banged 12 and sophomore outside hitter Angie Smith walloped 11.
Smith and senior libero Mali Brookshire helped create plenty of offensive chances for Houston, as Smith had 34 digs and a 2.0 passing rating, while Brookshire recorded 24 digs and a 2.03 passing rating.
Dzurick set up hits for teammates with 23 assists and junior Aliyah Walker had 19, while Smith served up 4 aces and 5-1 junior Logynn Foster had 3.
The Lady Tigers’ front line often made things hard for Liberty hitters, as 6-foot sophomore Kelsey Pritchett had 1 solo block and 1 assist block, while Dzurick and 6-foot senior Sarah Purcell each had 2 assist blocks and Crites a solo block.
“It was a huge win for us,” said HHS head coach Richardson said. “We’ve been talking a lot about being disciplined and fighting through adversity on the court when things aren’t going well. After a rough first set, I feel like the girls got down to business and did what they needed to do. Liberty is a good team and we fought hard for that win on the road.”
BIG WIN IN BIG RIVALRY
While it may not have been their prettiest win of the season, the Lady Tigers got the job done again at Cabool, defeating the host Lady Bulldogs 3-1.
After Houston took the first set in the best-of-5 contest 25-19, Cabool evened the game by winning the second set 25-22. The Lady Tigers took the advantage again by taking the third set 25-17, and then closed out the big victory with decisive 25-17 win in the fourth and final set.
Houston’s depth played a key role in the contest, and the squad’s defense repeatedly covered up mistakes and temporary slumps.
“It was good to get a win,” Richardson said. “Although we tend to play inconsistently at times against certain opponents, we have still been able to finish games.”
The Lady Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the back-and-forth first set after a service ace by Dzurick, but the Lady Bulldogs tied the score at 7-all on an ace by senior outside hitter Hailey Shannon.
As the two squads exchanged blows from there, Houston built a 4-point lead at 20-16 on a short kill by Smith, and capped off an 8-3 run with an ace by Walker to lead 21-16 before cruising to the set win.
The second set was a see-saw affair from beginning to end, as Cabool held a slim 22-21 advantage after a block by Pritchett before eventually squeaking past their guests.
After taking a 1-0 lead on a kill by Crites, the Lady Tigers led throughout the third set, despite a barrage of bombs delivered at severe downward trajectory by the hard-hitting, 5-11 Shannon. Houston finished the set with a 7-1 run, ending with a kill to the back-right corner by Dzurick and a block by Pritchett.
The Lady Tigers were firing on all cylinders through most of the fourth and final set.
With junior Madi Reed serving, Houston went on an 8-0 run and led 16-5 after Reed served up her second ace in the flurry.
The Lady Tigers kept the pressure on and held a commanding 21-8 lead after an ace by Foster.
The Lady Bulldogs (9-11-1, 2-3 SCA) continued playing hard and reduced the gap to 22-16 with an 8-1 run culminating with an ace by senior Alexis Hunter.
But Houston scored the next 3 points and closed out the game with a kill by Smith.
Through last week, the Lady Tigers stand alone atop the SCA standings at 4-0 and have an overall record of 18-3-1. Interestingly, two of the losses have come in best-of-3 games in tournaments against squads Houston has defeated in best-of-5 games (Licking and Mountain Grove).
The Lady Tigers are done with SCA play until the final three regular season games, Oct. 12, 14 and 19 in the new HHS gym. They’ll will face a stiff challenge in the upcoming Class 2 District 9 tournament, as the district’s 5-team field includes Licking, Liberty, Mansfield and Thayer.
“We’ve got to start playing at our highest level as we get closer to districts,” Richardson said. “Our district is tough and we will need to be playing our best volleyball in order to win. We are a good team and all of these girls contribute so much to our success. I’m confident we can keep competing with every opponent we face.”
This week, the Lady Tigers travel to Bourbon on Thursday and will play in another tournament on Saturday, the annual LHS Volleyball Classic at Licking.
“With the skill and ability the team has,” Dzurick said, “we hope to win every game at this point, but if we don’t put in the work and be disciplined every point and every set, it won’t be executed. We have to work together as a team and fight to the very last point.”
“We’ve had a good season so far,” Brookshire said. “We have to be good teammates and continue to work hard if we want to meet our goal of winning a district championship.”