Farmington storms past Lady Mules to title
CAPE GIRARDEAU -- Farmington senior Jessica Hicks tossed the ball in the air, lept and smashed the opening serve of the third game Wednesday night.
Her team had just evened the match with Poplar Bluff and the MSHSAA Class 4 District 1 title had come down to a winner-take-all game between the two teams for a second straight year.
What happened next was the beginning of the end for the Lady Mules, who fell short of the program's first-ever district title with a 25-27, 25-16, 25-19 loss to the defending champions.
Hicks' serve clipped the top of the net but had enough on it to fall in for an ace. Two points later, Hicks again clipped the net with her serve and again it fell in for an ace, this time untouched.
"A let serve is a great thing when you're serving it but on the other side, there's nothing you can do to defend it," Poplar Bluff coach Mike Berry said.
"A couple of breaks, that's volleyball."
It helped Farmington jump out to a 7-1 lead and the Knightettes never looked back, leading by as many as 11 before a late charge by Poplar Bluff.
"We get down, and we get down," Berry said. "They're not pulling themselves out of it. I just don't know, I have all the confidence in them.
"If you make a mistake you cannot dwell on it. You can't let it affect your game and that's what we did."
The Lady Mules (20-13-2) finished as the district runner-up for the fifth time since 1994 and for a second straight year. In 30-plus years Poplar Bluff has never won a district title in volleyball.
Meanwhile, Farmington (22-9) won its eighth title in the last nine years and will face the District 3 champion, the winner of second-seeded Nerinx Hall and fourth-seeded Kirkwood.
The top two seeds battled in an eerily similar championship as the previous year when Farmington won 22-25, 25-8, 25-17, leading wire-to-wire in the final two games.
This time, the opening game featured 11 lead changes and 10 ties while Farmington never trailed over the final two games.
"They played well in the first game and we probably didn't play as well as we're capable of playing but we ended up coming back," Farmington coach Gregg Winslow.
Trailing 23-12 in the third game, Alicia McAnulty and Riley Sells got consecutive kills but Whitney Johnson gave Farmington match point with a kill up the middle. The Lady Mules extended their season for four more points with Sells serving before the Knighettes closed it out with a kill.
"Finished strong there at the end but we were down 11," Berry said. "We're sitting on game point and they're fighting (but) you gotta fight back from the beginning."
Farmington took the lead for good in the second game after the teams traded a long volley tied at 3. Kelsey Greever put down a spike for a point and fellow senior Haley Franklin followed with an ace.
That started an 11-3 run that put the Knightettes up eight.
But the Lady Mules rallied, getting a kill followed by an ace from Sells. Sara Eyler crossed the court to chase down a free ball for another point and Lauren Vaughn served up an ace before a pair of hits by Farmington missed wide.
Suddenly, it was a 15-12 game but Farmington pulled away with kills by three different players.
Rachel Williams, a 6-foot junior, later finished an 8-2 run with a kill up the middle to give Farmington a 23-14 lead.
"They have some good hitters and they fed them," Berry said. "They did a good job of that."
Hicks opened the match by hitting the net with her serve and the teams traded points early. Another service error by Hicks gave the Lady Mules an 11-10 lead.
Farmer and Eyler followed with kills and Samantha Gatewood later blocked a Williams for a point. Alexa Atkinson finished a 10-3 run by the Lady Mules with a kill of a backset by setter Abbie McDaniel.
Trailing 20-13, Farmington rallied with three straight kills to start an 8-2 run. Consecutive kills by Greever later tied the match at 23 but Farmer gave the Lady Mules match point with a kill off a block.
But a kill by senior Jaden McBride tied it at 24 and the teams traded the next two points.
Farmer's kill off an assist by McDaniel and another by Atkinson on a backset gave the Lady Mules the first game.
"We just knew we could play better than the first game," Winslow said of his team's comeback. "Our passing was probably a little bit sharper, our attacks were a little bit crisper, we found some holes in their defense which we tried to exploit them as well."
Farmington also lost the first game in a match Oct. 10 at Poplar Bluff, which the Knightettes won 26-28, 25-16, 25-22 to earn the top seed.
Needing to finish off another rally Wednesday, Hicks set the tone at the start of the third game with six straight points after two serves errors earlier in the match.
"You can't do anything about it (and) that's the thing," Berry said of the let serves. "They're letting that kind of stuff bug them even more."
Farmer led the Lady Mules with 10 kills while Eyler added six. Sells and Atkinson each had five kills while Gatwood chipped in four. McDaniel had 14 assists and Lauren Vaughn had 12. Eyler, Sells and Gatewood each led with three blocks while Greenwall had 11 digs and Farmer nine.
Greenwall finished with 443 digs on the season, topping Mimi Kingery's old team record by 89.
Farmer finished with 243 kills on the season, second only to Jamie Hollins' 2002 total of 245.
It was the final game for seniors Kaley Morse, McDaniel, McAnulty and Eyler.
"Very dedicated, very hard working girls," Berry said of his seniors. "They wanted it more than anything."