NIXA – Branson High School’s volleyball team suffered a two-set loss to Nixa on Tuesday night.
Same as last season.
But the feelings about the loss were anything but the same for the Lady Pirates.
Whereas Branson was uncompetitive in a 25-13, 25-9 loss to Nixa last season, the Lady Pirates stood toe-to-toe with the Lady Eagles this time around, losing by set scores of 26-24, 25-20.
“Overall, we had some great moments,” Branson coach Kailey Bridges said after her team fell to 25-4 overall and saw a six-match winning streak end.
“I thought we played with more heart than I’ve seen us play with, which is great. But skill-wise, there’s still a little bit more there that was a little untapped.”
To see her team not play its best, and still battle against a team the caliber of Nixa’s, is a point of optimism for Bridges and the program.
Nixa (18-4) is widely regarded as one of the top teams in southwest Missouri, and was coming off a tournament championship at the loaded Blue Springs South Invitational.
The Lady Eagles also have impressive victories over Logan-Rogersville, Springfield Kickapoo (twice) and Carthage.
“Nixa is a stellar team,” Bridges said. “We were talking about their defense, and our hitters were saying, “Where do I go?” And we were like, “Good luck,” because they have a lot of things covered.”
In the opening set Tuesday, Nixa took an early 8-5 lead before Branson rallied, behind a pair of kills from Annie Graber and a kill and block for points by Morgan LeBlanc, for a 12-10 lead.
Two more kills from Graber, plus kills from Jaden Moore and Jordyn Schwartz, and a service ace by Mia LeBlanc, gave the Lady Pirates a 20-17 lead.
A pair of kills from Taylor Golmen helped tie the set at 22, and Branson fought off one set point before kills from Golmen and Jordan Collard ended it.
Nixa led for virtually the entire second set, taking leads of 5-1, 7-4 and 12-9, but Graber posted a block and a pair of kills, Morgan LeBlanc had a tip for a kill and Mia LeBlanc put one down the like, to cut the deficit to 14-13.
An Emily Prosser block gave Branson a 17-16 lead, with Moore’s tip kill making it an 18-17 lead and another Graber kill gave the Lady Pirates a 19-18 advantage.
Nixa rattled off the next three points to take a 21-19 lead, and after a hitting error gave Branson its final point, the Lady Eagles ended the match on a service ace by Lauren Weber and a kill from Golmen.
Branson had its chances, but still saw areas where it is trying to get to the level where Nixa resides.
“I think the biggest difference is, Branson is trying to figure out how to consistently be a winner in those last three points when you’re playing a really good team,” Bridges said. “We’re still working on that, just knowing that you are capable of getting that win.”
That need for more of a killer instinct is something the players are well aware of.
“One thing that we’ve really been working toward and striving for this season is just finishing,” senior libero Keaton Wilczynski said. “Being winners, finishing it off and ending it when it needs to end. This game showed that we still need to be working on that, and we’re going to get there.
“In our next games and especially going into districts, you’re going to see a team that knows how to finish and who will win.”
Graber finished with eight kills and three blocks to lead Branson, with Grace Dean dishing out 10 assists and Keaton Wilczynski adding 12 digs.
Branson was scheduled to host Neosho on Thursday night before playing Carthage in the home finale on Tuesday.
After ending the regular season with a pair of road matches, Branson could get a rematch with Nixa in the Class 4 District 10 Tournament in Ozark.
The field also includes Springfield schools Glendale, Kickapoo and Parkview, plus Ozark and West Plains.
“I think the girls are a little more confident now – Nixa beat us pretty easily last season,” Bridges said. “Knowing that we can compete with them, I would love to see any great team in districts again and get a ‘W.’ ”