OZARK – Wednesday night’s action at the Class 4 District 10 Tournament marked an abrupt end for the Branson High School volleyball team.
The third-seeded Lady Pirates ran into a buzzsaw in second-seeded Springfield Kickapoo, dropping a 25-17, 25-17 decision.
In the emotional aftermath of the loss, the reality that the high school careers for eight Branson seniors hit hard.
The seniors bought into what coach Kailey Bridges was selling when she arrived before the 2018 season, going from a 17-15 finish last season to a 29-6 campaign this fall.
The 29 victories set a school record for wins in a single season.
Bridges credited the work of the eight outgoing seniors – Keaton Wilczynski, Kayli Nimmo, Grace Dean, Mia LeBlanc, Jaden Moore, Jordyn Schwartz, Annie Graber and Alli Hawkins – with helping the program make huge strides this season.
“The underclassmen are going to have huge shoes to fill, 16 very big shoes,” Bridges said. “They are amazing.
“I’ve never had a senior class that big, and they represented what a senior class should try to represent almost every single day.”
Branson advanced to the district semifinals with a three-set victory over Springfield Glendale on Monday night, winning by set scores of 16-25, 25-17, 25-15.
Morgan LeBlanc finished with 12 kills and Schwartz added 10 to lead the Lady Pirates, with Dean finishing with 20 assists, and Wilczynski notching 14 digs and three service aces.
Things were even more difficult against Kickapoo, which came in with a 28-5 record, on an eight-match winning streak and with a talented group of players led by Mizzou commit Lauren Forbes and Drury commit Tayte Kozlowski.
Branson never led in the opening set, watching as Kickapoo took leads of 4-0, 16-10 and 19-13.
A service ace and kill from Morgan LeBlanc, then a hitting error by Kickapoo, forced the Lady Chiefs to take a timeout while leading 20-17.
Kickapoo scored the set’s final five points, with Caitlyn Bernard putting down a kill and a block, sandwiched around a Forbes kill, to end the set.
Branson never led but stayed within striking distance in the second set, with Schwartz, Graber and Morgan LeBlanc recording kills in the early going. Kickapoo held an 8-5 lead, then went on a three-point run on kills by Melanie Cox, Bernhard and Forbes to take control.
Kozlowski added two more kills midway through the set, and ended the match with a kill, following a kill and service ace by Forbes as the Lady Chiefs took control.
“They are an incredibly athletic team, they have some phenomenal hitters, and they are very hard to compete against,” Bridges said.
“I wish we would have competed a little better, I think we could have showed up a little bit more.”
Kozlowski had 11 kills to lead Kickapoo, which lost a two-set decision to Nixa in the championship match later Wednesday.
Morgan LeBlanc’s five kills and 11 digs paced Branson.