Faced with a big-time challenge, the Helias volleyball team came up with a big-time effort.
In a battle of state-ranked teams in Class 4 on Thursday night, the Lady Crusaders clearly had the better of play and carved out a 25-12, 25-22 win against the Rock Bridge Bruins at Rackers Fieldhouse in Jefferson City.
Playing exceptional defense against the tall front line of the Bruins and getting a number of good swings on offense, the Lady Crusaders played at a high level for all but a few points.
"That was a big win for us," Helias coach David Harris said. "We needed to beat a good team for one thing, and then another, we beat a district opponent, which is always really good."
The Bruins, ranked seventh, had their moments against the 10th-ranked Lady Crusaders, but couldn't string points together on a consistent basis.
"(The players) needed to better the ball," Rock Bridge coach Robin Sherman said. "No matter what they got, they needed to better the ball, and they didn't do that tonight."
After Rock Bridge took a 3-1 lead in the opening game, Helias came back to win seven of the next eight points.
The Bruins managed to get one point coming out of a timeout, but errors on four of the next eight points forced them to call another timeout.
"We didn't pass very well," Sherman said. "The first game was really rough for us, a lot of things breaking down."
The outcome of the first game was never in doubt after that.
Tory Wiley racked up seven of her match-high 11 kills in the first game.
"She can be a dominant force," Harris said. "If you challenge her and put somebody across from her that is going to keep her focused, she can do very well."
The Bruins tried to turn the tide by winning the first three points of the second game, but Helias had an answer again.
A kill by Wiley gave Helias its first lead of that game at 5-4 and while it would be tied three times after that, the Lady Crusaders would never trail again.
After the last tie, at 9, the Lady Crusaders got kills from Brittney Engelbrecht, Laura Schieber and Erica Haslag to go with a Rock Bridge error to go up 13-9.
That kind of production was typical on a night where six different players had kills for the Lady Crusaders. Harris said he was pleased with that output against a Rock Bridge team that has five players 5-foot-11 or taller, including three 6-1 players.
"We know they're huge, so we've been working on swinging high, hitting off the hands, and we did that very well tonight," he said. "We got blocked a couple times, but not much."
The Bruins got three blocks for points, but Sherman said the balls that got through caused problems for her team.
"We were getting our hands on the ball on the block a lot, but it was rolling deep corners and we were not running those down," she said.
The only hiccup all night for the Lady Crusaders came at the end of the second game. After taking a 23-17 lead on a kill by Molly Sandbothe, Helias committed three straight errors, forcing Harris to take a timeout.
The struggles, coupled with three serving errors earlier in the game, caused the normally taciturn Harris to grow pretty animated, allowing a glimpse of the rarely seen "Angry David."
"You got to see him," Harris said with a laugh. "He came out for a little bit."
It didn't get much better right after that, as a hitting error by Helias and an ace by Rock Bridge cut the lead all the way down to 23-22.
After Harris burned another timeout, the Lady Crusaders got kills from Sandbothe and Engelbrecht to end it.
"I'm really proud of our focus because not only is it Homecoming week, but this is our third game this week," said Harris, whose team improved to 14-3. "With everything else going on, to come out and be that focused and ready to play, I'm very proud of them. If we play like that, the results are going to take care of themselves."
The Bruins dropped to 16-2 with loss.
"The things we're normally really good at were not so hot," Sherman said. "That would be passing, that would be running a little bit better offense. But I think it's hard to run a good offense when you're not passing. ... We've got some things to take care of."
In addition to Wiley's big night, the Lady Crusaders got four kills apiece from Engelbrecht, Haslag and Lindsey Griggs. Engelbrecht also dished out 15 assists and Blake Berhorst had eight digs.
Kayla Cheadle, a Kansas University recruit, had five kills to lead Rock Bridge. Audrey Holt, who has committed to Missouri State, and Sophie Cunningham chipped in with three apiece. Chayla Cheadle, Kayla's sister who has committed to play basketball at Kansas, managed just one. Ali Kreklow, the daughter of Missouri coaches Wayne and Susan Kreklow who has committed to the Tigers, dished out 12 assists.
Helias returns to action Saturday at the Springfield Glendale Tournament.
In the JV game, Helias cruised to a 25-14, 25-9 win.
Lexy Lamb racked up seven service points, eight assists and six digs for the Lady Crusaders (15-2). Suzie Kuensting had six kills, Emma Albertson had three blocks and Heidi Strobel had six service points with two aces.
The Lady Crusaders won the freshman match by a 25-10, 25-7 score.
Morgan Fischer had three aces and seven assists for Helias (15-2), Kelsey Schenewerk had six kills, Ella Ward had five digs and Bailey Taggart had 12 service points, including three aces.