Kinsey Benack, Claire Martin, Festus; Laney Smith, Jefferson

Jefferson junior Laney Smith sends the ball over the net at the Festus front row of Kinsey Benack, left, and Claire Martin during the match on Oct. 3.

Statement and rebuttal.

No, this wasn’t a debate competition. It was the exchange between neighboring schools on the volleyball court last week.

On Oct. 3, Jefferson visited Festus in an eagerly anticipated matchup of two strong teams from both sides of the Jefferson County Activities Association – Jefferson from the small-schools division and Festus on the large-school side. Fighting through two close sets, the Blue Jays prevailed 26-24, 25-23 for their third straight win.

The Tigers squandered a five-point lead late in the first set and couldn’t hold two four-point leads in the second set in suffering their first home loss of the season.

But the tables were turned two days later, back in the same gym, as Festus hosted the Festus Biehle Tournament and took down Jefferson 25-13, 25-22. The Tigers also knocked off East St. Louis (25-22, 25-19) and Parkway North (25-11, 25-16) before falling to Hillsboro 23-25, 25-27 in the championship match.

Jefferson’s record, after the tournament, stood at 21-6 while Festus was 16-7-2. Both teams figure to be high seeds in their respective district tournaments coming up the week after next.

Beating Festus on its home floor Oct. 3 was a season highlight for the Blue Jays, who have lost four times against larger schools this fall but only twice to teams in their class or lower.

Jefferson head coach Tara Fish credited the win to her team’s attitude and determination.

“One of the very last things I say to them (before a match) is, just have fun,” Fish said. “If we’re having fun, then we do better and the whole bench has a good time with it. It brings huge energy for us.”

Her squad trailed in both sets but fought its way back with a nice combination of service aces, laser-beam kills and effective blocks.

The Tigers led 24-19 in the first set after an ace by junior Lily Brickhaus. But Jefferson answered with a 7-0 run to take the set, with senior Abby Govreau capturing the final point on an ace.

Festus senior and all-state standout Bria Garmon blasted a kill in the second set to put her team ahead 10-6, making it look like the teams were headed for a third set. But the Blue Jays clawed back to a 10-10 tie and even edged ahead 12-11 on a Paige Siebert ace. From there the score was tied 11 more times before Jefferson nailed down the win on back-to-back kills by freshman Kirstyn Loyd and junior Laney Smith.

“The first set we were down pretty far. I called a time out and they found it again,” Fish said. “That’s the best part – they’re just not giving up. They just keep working and they don’t get that failure mindset. They keep after it and that’s huge.”

Smith finished with 11 kills and has a team-leading 142 for the season. Loyd contributed one ace, seven kills and 12 assists and Govreau had nine service points, including four aces. Loyd’s 54 aces already are a school single-season record and rank her seventh in the St. Louis area.

“We have some good servers,” Fish said. “Kirsten Loyd actually just broke our school record last week, and Abby Govreau is close behind, for aces for the season. It’s really exciting, especially because Abby’s a senior and Kirstyn’s a freshman. Going out like that for Abby is going to be great, her ringing up all those aces. She’s done a good job for us.”

Festus head coach Karen Biehle cast the defeat in simple terms.

“Jefferson just went after us; they didn’t sit around,” Biehle said. “They hit the ball. They outplayed us. That’s the difference in the game, pretty much.

“We should have won the first (set). The second one, we still didn’t do some things we should have been doing right. We haven’t practiced (as a) whole team for like three weeks together, because of injuries. But that’s not an excuse. They just beat us.”

Jefferson was scheduled to host St. Pius X on Tuesday, after the Leader deadline, in a match that could determine the JCAA small-schools champion. Festus had matches this week against Crystal City and Herculaneum and is slated to visit St. Pius X tonight (Thursday).

Hawks rolling along

Hillsboro set the stage for a successful day Saturday when it beat Jefferson and Seckman in straight sets to start the Festus Tournament.

Another win against East St. Louis landed the Hawks in the championship match against JCAA large-schools rival Festus. Four days earlier, Hillsboro had beaten the Tigers in a tight three-game match. After beating Festus 25-23 in the first game of the final, the Hawks trailed the second game 24-20 and were one point from going three sets. But the Tigers made two errors and the game was tied 24-24. Junior Sophia Marchetti had a block and had a tip at the net for the tournament-winning point and the Hawks climbed above .500 at 13-10-1.

“We saw Festus at our place on (Oct. 1). It was three tough sets,” Hillsboro head coach Erin Boss said. “I felt like it was intense the whole night. We went three sets with North County the night before and we were a little tired. We were up 20-14 in the first set (against the Tigers) and got a little comfortable. When it was 24-20, my girls never gave up.”

Keeping Festus senior Bria Garmon, the large-schools player of the year in 2017 and 2018, from dominating the net is the focus of all of the Tigers’ opponents. Boss knows her team can’t be timid when Garmon is set for a shot.

“You’ve got to shut her down and block her a few times,” Boss said. “She sees the whole court. Basically, when she’s swinging, you’ve got to shut her down. She’s the heartbeat of their team and has been for the last four years. When her teammates see her get down, they lose a little desire. She’s a tough one to read. I tell my girls to play our game and get a touch on the ball and give our defense a chance.”

Athletes in some sports, like football, play once a week. Softball teams can play three or four games in a weekend tournament. Soccer teams play a few times a week. Volleyball players have to be conditioned to play five or six matches in one day. Boss was audibly hoarse after yelling at her players for several hours.

“There’s a difference in being in running shape and volleyball shape,” she said. “I get our conditioning done on the court. I can run for days but when I’m out there on the court, I’m sucking wind out there.”

The Hawks began the season by playing in the Lift for Life Tournament in Cape Girardeau. Hillsboro is the only JCAA team in Class 4 and will be in District 1 later this month against Cape Girardeau Central, Farmington, Jackson, Poplar Bluff and Sikeston.

Boss pulled the Hawks out of the Jackson Tournament this weekend because it’s Hillsboro’s homecoming, and replaced that with the tourney at Festus.

Mackenzie Baker is the Hawks’ fixture in the middle. Evelyn Roland is the main server. Maya Wright, Bella Lewis, Grace Ringling and Marchetti have been the core of the starting unit this year. Heather Ripperger comes in for Wright and Ringling in the back row.

An injury forced Baker to miss a few games to start the season and Marchetti was out of the Cape Girardeau tournament with an injury. Both are back in the lineup.

“It was a little frustrating but there was nothing we could do about it,” Boss said of the injuries. “We finally found that groove and then lost two conference games to Perryville and Windsor. This week we got on a roll and are playing well right now. They’re playing for a team instead of for themselves. That’s what makes our two conference losses a little harder to take.

“Hopefully we can roll through October and since we didn’t win conference we can take it all the way and win districts.”