Just like that, No. 1 is playing for No. 3.
The Liberty girls volleyball team, the top-ranked team in the state in Class 4, will be playing for the third-place trophy Saturday at the Missouri state high school volleyball championships.
The Blue Jays, who came into Friday’s first-day action at the Show Me Center with a record of 31-0-2, finished just 2-4 in pool play and will face Ozark in today’s third-place game at 1:30 p.m.
“As a coach, you never think about coming (to the state tournament) and playing for third place,” said Liberty coach April Fleming. “But at this level, every team is a good team and every team has good hitters. We didn’t play our best, but we’re gonna come out hard (Saturday) and play for third place.”
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Liberty opened pool play by splitting two games with St. Joseph’s Academy of St. Louis, dropping the first game 25-18 before winning the second 25-17. Mistakes, which plagued the Blue Jays in that first set of games, proved a harbinger of things to come.
“In that first set we were making all sorts of mistakes,” Fleming said. “We were batting balls out of bounds, hitting into the blocks, and obviously that was giving (St. Joseph’s) some points. The second set we came out and handled the ball a little bit better offensively and it made a big difference.”
But a second-round sweep by Ozark (26-24, 25-17) put the onus on the Blue Jays to come back with a sweep of Wildwood in the day’s final match for a chance at playing in Saturday’s title match, something that never materialized.
“We expected better, but things happen,” said Liberty senior outside hitter Madison Duello, a University of Wisconsin recruit who finished with 14 kills on 25 attacks in the Blue Jays’ final-game victory. “We have to move on to tomorrow. Just keep our heads up and keep playing.”
Wildwood won the first game 25-20, but Liberty won the second 25-21.
“We just want to finish out the season strong,” said junior outside hitter Morgan Fleming. “It was not the end result we wanted today, but we want to come out tomorrow for third place and finish strong.”
St. Joseph’s Academy of St. Louis and Ozark both finished pool play with records of 3-3 and staged a one-game playoff late Friday. St. Joseph’s advanced to Saturday’s championship against Wildwood (4-2).
In Class 3, St. Pius had a difficult time much of the day matching up against the height and power of its opponents, finishing pool play at 1-5. The Warriors, 29-7-4, were swept by St. Louis Villa Duschesne, 25-9, 25-18, and Helias Catholic of Jefferson City 25-5, 25-19. The Warriors were no match for Duschesne’s twin towers of Mary Donovan and Lizabeth Orf — both 6-foot-2 — and struggled against the speed and finesse of Helias.
“Height is always a problem with us,” St. Pius X coach Krista Daniels said. “We’re obviously not the tallest team, so that gets to us in terms of being able to control their hitters and find their blockers at the same time. And they just got a jump on us at the very beginning. We kind of shut down that first game. We definitely picked it back up that second game. We tried sticking with them, and we did. But we struggled.”
Then, after dropping the first set in the day’s final match against St. Pius X of Festus, 25-22, the Warriors rallied from a 19-10 deficit in the second game to eke out a 26-24 win and enter today’s third-place game against the same Lancers (1-5) with a dose of confidence.
“I told them this was the last game of the night and let’s end it on a high note,” Daniels said. “We’ve never been a team to give up all season long. Even if we get down, we fight back.”
Senior outside hitter Sarah Schiesl, who led the Warriors with 17 kills, including five in the final-game win, said the Warriors’ pride was on the line.
“All day today I think we felt like people thought we didn’t deserve to be here,” said Schiesl. “I feel like we really do deserve to be here, and that last game proved it because we fought our way back. That’s what we’re gonna have to do (Saturday) is play as hard as we did in that last game.”
And playing for third place in Class 3 means something to the Warriors.
“One of the things we know after winning that last game is that we can beat them,” said Daniels. “And that gives us a boost of confidence. Like I told them, how many winners come out of (Saturday’s) games? I think they’ll come out strong. Ending on that note, I think we’ll come out ready (Saturday).”
Helias (6-0) faces Villa Duschene (4-2) in the Class 3 title game at 7:30 p.m.