The Jefferson City Lady Jays turned it on when they needed it Wednesday night at Fleming Fieldhouse.
The No. 2 seed Lady Jays sputtered in the third set of the Class 4 District 5 first-round matchup against the No. 7 seed Camdenton Lady Lakers, but they closed out the match with a huge run in the fourth set to pick up a 25-15, 25-21, 17-25, 25-12 victory.
The victory pushes Jefferson City into the district semifinals where it will match up against third-seeded Helias, which defeated No. 6 seed Capital City in three sets in Wednesday’s other first-round match.
“A win is a win,” Jefferson City coach Ali Eskens said. “During the postseason, you’re just living to fight another day. Every single day you’re getting after it, controlling what you can control and doing what you can do and you just hope the chips fall your way. We did a really good job tonight of taking care of business down the stretch.”
The Lady Jays struggled early in sets against the Lady Lakers, starting with Camdenton scoring three of the first four points of the first set.
A number of factors played into Jefferson City’s slow starts to games.
“There’s a lot of variables that play into it, one being postseason, two being we played a 5 o’clock match, we are used to playing later in the evening,” Eskens said. “There’s a lot of variables that go into postseason play and a lot of things that look different. It’s just being able to adjust on the fly and being able to be adaptable to those changes.”
But once the Lady Jays grabbed momentum in the middle of a set, they rarely gave it back.
Jefferson City took its first lead of the opening game at 6-5 following a Lady Laker attack error and never gave it back, running away with a 25-15 victory.
“We talk about taking care of the small things and narrowing our focus into the little details,” Eskens said. “That’s when you see the big things. That’s when you see the kills and that’s when you see the service aces.”
It was an even slower start to the second set for the Lady Jays as Camdenton quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
Eskens decided not to call a timeout, and the gamble paid off as Jefferson City was able to score the next five points to even the set up.
“I was real close,” Eskens said. “I was battling that and I just thought we needed to get out of that one rotation. I gave them one more chance before I called timeout and they were able to pull out of it.”
The Lady Jays took their first lead at 7-6 following one of Aaleah Woodard’s six kills, but the Lady Lakers were able to battle back and tie the set up at 12 and 13.
A Nola Borgmeyer kill gave Jefferson City the lead back at 14-13 it kick-started an 8-1 run to pave the way for a 25-21 second-set win.
“It’s always a good feeling, but the challenge to winning those first two sets is coming into the third set with the same mentality and not pulling the foot off the gas,” Eskens said. “As great as it was winning those first two sets, you got to make sure you’re ready for Game 3 and I think that’s where we dropped the ball a little bit tonight.”
The Lady Jays had their best start to a set in the third, scoring two of the first three points, but things quickly fell apart after.
Camdenton took the lead for good at 8-7 following an ace from Isabella Asante, and the Lady Lakers led the rest of the way en route to a 25-17 third-set victory and force a fourth set.
“It’s just being dialed in and playing clean and crisp,” Eskens said. “And where you saw us kind of a fall apart a little bit, it was a little loose and a little sloppy. When you do that, you open those gates. If you can’t keep pressure on the other team, that’s what happens in the sport of volleyball.”
Camdenton rode the momentum to a 7-2 early lead in the fourth set and led 9-5 before a Leah Heisler kill forced a side out and switched the serve over to the Lady Jays’ Ava Reeser.
When Reeser’s service run was over, Jefferson City held a 15-10 lead. The Lady Jays continued the run through the rest of the set, scoring 20 of the final 23 points to halt the Lady Lakers’ comeback bid and end the match.” Eskens said.
“That’s what we call clean, crisp volleyball,” Eskens said. “That’s what they did in that fourth set, they were clean and they took care of business. I was proud they were able to get that going.”
Maddie Mitchell and Hannah Vogt led the way for Jefferson City (21-9) with near triple-doubles. Mitchell finished with a game-high 20 kills while adding 19 assists and eight digs, and Vogt had eight kills, 23 assists and 11 digs. Aydia Mayotte led the Lady Jays’ defense with 43 digs, Borgmeyer added 20 digs to go with her 12 kills and Reeser finished with 10 digs.
The Lady Lakers end their season with a 16-16 record.
Jefferson City will now shift its focus to a rematch with Helias (22-9-4), which it defeated in straight sets earlier this month at Rackers Fieldhouse.