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story.lead_photo.caption Abigail Fisher of Calvary Lutheran spikes the ball through the arms of a Eugene player during a Class 1 district match last month at Calvary. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

It's the second straight trip to the Class 1 volleyball Final Four for the Calvary Lutheran Lady Lions.

However, this is a new experience for their head coach, Kandace Cook.

"I don't think I can have anymore information put into my brain," Cook said. " It's been a learning experience, for sure, one I don't think I would trade ever."

Calvary Lutheran (23-6-3) will play three pool-play style matches today in the Class 1 semifinals at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, where each matchup will consist of just two sets.

The Lady Lions open against Billings at 10 a.m., play Advance at noon and then face Santa Fe at 2 p.m.

"It's nice to have a round-robin where you get to play everybody and see their strong points," Cook said. "The hard part is if you have a crummy day playing round-robin, you're not going to get to play for first place.

"I just want them to give their all. They've got to take sets. Between the four teams that are going, it's going to be tight games. Everybody's going to be fighting for points."

The top two teams from the semifinal action will play for the Class 1 state championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The bottom two teams will play for third place at noon.

Cook spent the early part of this week finding as much as she could about Calvary Lutheran's three opponents.

"Thank goodness for social media, because I've been able to see some things from the other teams," she said, "things I know that I want us to work on that we can excel at against them. You're trying to see as much as possible, and of course our girls are looking at their stats and see who they compare against."

Billings (22-5-2) had to win three consecutive three-set matches in the postseason to get to the Final Four. The two teams met in the Final Four last season, with Calvary Lutheran winning 25-21, 25-21 in their semifinal matchup.

"They're very similar to us," Cook said. "They have a really strong outside hitter. We have some strong points within our middles and that's something we really want to focus on."

Bailey Groves, a senior outside hitter, is a returning all-state player for the Lady Wildcats. She has 56 kills in her last four matches and 880 kills for her career.

Billings finished fourth in Class 1 last year, losing to West Platte in the third-place match.

"Billings is a really scrappy team, they don't let things hit the ground," Cook said. "They're going to play it out to the best of their ability."

Advance, the defending Class 1 state champion, cruised back to the Final Four this season. The Lady Hornets return three all-state players: senior middle hitter Roz Schrader, junior outside hitter Alyssa Miles and junior middle hitter Nyah Wilson.

"They are very talented," Cook said. " I want our girls to try to fight so hard that they make the upset, or that they take a set."

Calvary Lutheran and Advance met twice last season in the Final Four. The Lady Hornets won both matchups: 25-17, 25-20 in the semifinals and 25-12, 25-23 in the championship match.

"Even though they didn't take the championship, they took second against a great team," Cook said. "You can't be disappointed when you play a team so well and give your all in that game."

Santa Fe is the only newcomer to the Class 1 Final Four this season, but the Lady Chiefs are making their 22nd appearance. They have won seven state championships, the late coming in 2015.

"It's going to be a battle," Cook said. "It's going to be who plays their best game that day to finish it out."

Senior outside hitter Carrigan Smith is a returning all-state player for Santa Fe, but sophomore middle hitter Isabella Limback has been a big contributor this season for the Lady Chiefs.

"You need to shut down the best player, that's how you win," Cook said. "You shut down the player that's giving you the most havoc. You've got to be aggressive and be able to confident enough in your skills to play up."

Cook said defense will be key this weekend for the Lady Lions. They have 138 total blocks this season, three behind Advance, to go with 1,287 digs in 67 sets played.

"We're better blockers, and that's going to be our strong point," Cook said. "Our block is a very good defense for us."

Four days after winning the District 12 championship, Calvary Lutheran won 25-22, 25-19 against Greenfield in sectionals, then rallied to beat Sedalia Sacred Heart 19-25, 25-23, 25-14 in the quarterfinals.

"When we lost the first set, I was super nervous," Cook said. "I was scared for the girls and I was like, 'Somebody has got to get a fire in their belly and put some balls away.' And that's what they did. They came out and won that second set, and in that third set, they really turned it on."

The Lady Lions return four players who competed last season in the state title match, including returning all-state libero Maddi Layson. However, Layson, a senior, re-injured her left knee in practice Tuesday and is questionable to play in today's matches.

"On serve-receive, Maddi is one of our best passers," Cook said. "She wants to play, she wants to be there. We'll see what happens."

Following the 2017 season, Calvary Lutheran had yet to win a district volleyball championship. When the Lady Lions return home this weekend, they'll come back with their second state trophy.

"The grass is greener right here, right now for what they're doing," Cook said.

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