Lady Knights ride to GVVC volleyball tournament championship
A lights out title game performance lifted the Northeast Vernon County Lady Knights to the Golden Valley Vernon County Conference tournament championship Saturday afternoon in Sheldon.
The conference championship game pitted top-seeded NEVC against the second-seeded Hume Lady Hornets. It was the third time this season the GVVC foes have met. After defeating Hume in a three-set road-match on Tuesday, NEVC once again came out on top, with a dominant title game performance — winning in straight sets 25-20 and 25-18.
The victory improved NEVC to 11-2 overall.
“I’m anxious and excited,” said fifth-year Lady Knights head coach, Erica Mott, shortly after her squad captured the championship.
The Lady Knights received an opening-round bye, advancing to the semifinals, where they dispatched the Bronaugh Lady Wildcats in two sets.
“It’s still sinking in,” said Mott. “We’ve never gotten past the first round since I’ve been a coach here, so it’s exciting, and a little bit emotional.”
The Lady Hornets were unable to contain NEVC outside hitter, Makinsey Conner, as the junior tallied a team-high seven kills, with most of them coming in the form of powerful front row spikes.
NEVC closed out the first set on a 7-3 run, capped by senior setter Andrea Halcomb’s front row assist to Conner, who put down the kill to seal the opening set victory.
Hume opened the second set with a Karlee Metcalf service point, to take a 1-0 lead. NEVC then reeled off three quick points, capped by a Mary Thoreson kill, as the senior middle hitter then followed with an ace to hand the Lady Knights a 7-2 lead. Hume began to chip away, with a Metcalf ace trimming the NEVC lead to 8-5.
The front row play of Conner and Halcomb, however, began to pay major dividends. A right-side to left-side assist from Halcomb to Conner for the power-kill, followed by a Kelly Dade ace, put NEVC in front 11-6.
NEVC then began to flex its muscle, as Conner’s emphatic spike, followed by another Halcomb assist to Conner for the running kill, stretched the Lady Knights advantage to seven. NEVC then went in front 15-6 via back-to-back Dade service points.
Consecutive Hannah Gorda kills and a Metcalf ace down the left boundary line, kept Hume within striking distance, as the Lady Hornets trailed 16-10.
That was as close as Hume would get. With Conner serving, the Lady Knights went on a 6-0 blitz to seize a commanding 22-10 lead. Hume didn’t go quietly, taking eight of the next 10 points, before a hitting error sent NEVC to its first GVVC tournament championship in the Mott era.
For NEVC, Conner rose to the occasion with a tournament MVP-like performance, finishing with seven kills and two aces.
“The team was together, and we were all playing as one,” said Conner, who added it was one of her top all-around performances of the season. “Winning the championship is super-exciting.”
A major strength for the Lady Knights was serving, with Thoreson netting five aces, followed by Kierston Diamond with four, while Dade and Maddison Ashby chipped in three kills apiece.
“We were making very smart plays in both games today,” said Mott. “Even when we got in trouble, we were making sure that we just got the ball back over so that we could reset and refocus. We stayed very positive when (Hume) started to come back.”
Added Mott: “That’s really been a big difference in our season — our ability to come back and not get down on ourselves, and to really play hard and make smart choices.”
Mott has a close-knit bond with her club, as it’s her first group of players she’s coached from freshman all the way through their senior seasons.
“That’s the part that makes me the most emotional,” said Mott. “Seeing how much they’ve grown and how much they’ve really listened to what I have to say. Their understanding of volleyball is great right now. They know if they make a mistake, what they’re doing wrong. And to actually understand it, is a step further than everything else.”
Hume had a slightly rockier path than NEVC to the title match. Like NEVC, Hume received an opening-round bye. While NEVC cruised to a two-set victory in their semifinal matchup, the Lady Hornets needed three sets to derail third-seeded Ballard.
“I thought we could have done a lot better at minimizing errors,” said first-year Hume head coach, Jackie Harter.
Harter indicated her squad came out a little rusty, dropping the first set against Ballard.
“The first game against Ballard, we had a lot of serving and hitting errors,” said Harter. “We cleaned it up a lot in the second and third sets, and I think that’s a big reason why we won those sets. They weren’t afraid to keep swinging and we stayed aggressive.”
Harter said the unforced errors committed in set one against Ballard, cropped back up in the title game.
“We got a little nervous, which kind of showed through in being hesitant, and not going after balls as aggressively as we normally do,” said Harter, a former NCAA Division 1 volleyball player at the University of Tennessee-Martin.
“To me, that was the big thing, we didn’t put forth as great of an effort as we usually do — just a little lack of hustle and a lot of hesitation.”
Despite the title game setback, Harter said she couldn’t be prouder of her team.
“I’m super-proud of how far they’ve come,” she said. “We had some who were afraid to go after balls, afraid to hit the floor, and just wanted to go up and whip balls,” she said. “They’ve gotten so much better at everything since the first day of practice.”
The tournament kicked off Saturday at 9 a.m., with No. 3 Ballard upending the host Sheldon Lady Panthers in two sets. In the tournament’s second game, No. 4 Bronaugh cruised past No. 5 Miami in two sets.
In the fifth-place game, Sheldon notched its first victory of the season, triumphing over Miami in two sets — 25-20, 25-18. In the third-place match, Ballard toppled Bronaugh in three sets — 15-25, 25-17, 25-16.
In the championship match, NEVC claimed the crown with a two-set victory over Hume — 25-20, 25-18.