BY LUCAS DAVIS
Webb City volleyball had a strong season coming into the CJ Classic.
On Saturday, the Cardinals (17-2) showed they were a team to be taken seriously over the final month of the season after coming away as the tournament champion after a 25-20, 25-23 win over Carthage in the finals.
"I am so proud of these girls because we really stepped it up," Webb City coach Rhonda Lawrence said. "We played very focused and more intentional with our contacts with who was playing the ball, who needed the ball and where to put it. Mentally, they really stepped it up."
Webb City finished 3-0 in pool play before defeating Liberty-Mountain View in the quarterfinals and Carl Junction in the semifinals of the Gold Bracket.
Webb City's biggest advantage in the two-game sweep of Carthage was controlling serves. The Cardinals had five service runs of three points or more in the two games, while the Tigers had two.
"It was huge. Anytime the ball is in our hands, we have a better chance at scoring," Lawrence said. "Service-wise, we were very aggressive and very good with placement."
"Webb City is too good of a team to go back and forth with," Carthage coach Olivia Cooley said. "You have to be able to hold the ball and defend the serve. Webb City was able to execute on the outside over and over, so we will have to make some adjustments."
While the Tigers ultimately fell in the finals, Carthage improved its season record to 17-7-1 after going 3-0 in pool play before beating Nevada in the quarterfinals and Helias Catholic in a three-game thriller in the semifinals.
"I was very proud of them," Cooley said. "It is a long day, and we played a lot of good volleyball today."
The most-important service stretch in the opening game of the championship match came with Webb City leading 19-18, as Maddy Peeples rattled off four consecutive points to give her team a 23-18 advantage. Peeples and Anna Swearengen, who finished the first-game win with a kill, contributed kills in the run.
The second game started with Carthage scoring the first three points. Swearengen took control on service with a three-point stretch to give Webb City a 6-4 lead on a Peeples block.
Both teams battled back and forth before a fourpoint service run by Peeples put Webb City on top 13-8. Peeples had an ace and a kill in the run, while Swearengen and Jasmine Putnam had a kill each.
The Tigers, behind a strong service run from Isabelle Howrey, battled back to tie the second game at 20-20 on a block from Paige Schrader before taking the 21-20 lead on a Webb City attack error. The Cardinals responded and clinched the championship win on the Tigers' service, with Swearengen earning the kill on the final point.
Peeples was named the CJ Classic MVP after finishing with a total of 33 kills, 29 digs and four aces in six matches, while Swearengen was also named to the all-tournament team after totaling 44 kills, 14 digs and four aces.
"Maddy is such a fun kid to coach because she has a smile on her face almost all the time," Lawrence said. "She is focused and loves the game.
"Anna has a swing that is tough to handle no matter who is on the other side. She can swing high off the hand, tool it around you or blast it through you, sometimes."
Carthage's Alexa Boyle, who finished with 54 kills and 19 aces, and Schrader, 12 blocks, also earned all-tournament honors. Carl Junction's Salma Lewis (54 kills), Helias Catholic's Lacey Heidbrink, Liberty's Kelstin Roy, Grain Valley's Jessica Slater and Nevada's Stacy Pennington filled out the CJ Classic all-tournament team.
Joplin Globe 09/29/2019 (Used by permission)