WARDSVILLE — The Blair Oaks Lady Falcons bulk up the back end of their volleyball schedule for a reason: to get prepared for districts.
While the outcome of Thursday's match, a 22-25, 24-26, 15-25 loss to the Rock Bridge Bruins, was a setback on the Lady Falcons' record, the level of competition is what they wanted to see.
"I feel like you really get to see the girls' true colors come out, and see how they react to such a good team," Blair Oaks coach Megan Distler said. "We have seen some good teams, but nothing quite like that."
Rock Bridge (16-1-1), ranked No. 7 in Class 5 by MaxPreps, scored eight of the first nine points in the first set. The Bruins boast one of the tallest front lines Blair Oaks has seen, as Lily Dudley had a pair of early kills.
Add in Ella Swindle, Rock Bridge's 6-foot-3 setter who added six kills and three blocks in addition to leading her team in assists, and Blair Oaks had to face a rotation it had not yet seen this year.
"And we won't see that the rest of the season," Distler said. " The girls knew coming in that Ella would be a threat on the offensive end, she's good at distributing the ball to her teammates."
That matchup helps prepare Blair Oaks should it face Hermann — the No. 2 team in Class 3 — in the district tournament in two weeks. Rock Bridge and Hermann have split their two head-to-head matchups this season. Hermann received the No. 1 seed in Class 3 District 8, while Blair Oaks — which is hosting the tournament — drew the No. 2 seed ahead of Fatima.
Rock Bridge led 12-3 in the first set, but Blair Oaks went on an 8-2 run to make it 14-11.
Alyssa Hargus had a kill to close the gap to 24-22, but Rock Bridge's Emma Benney answered with a kill to finish off the first set.
"I think we came out just a little bit scared at the beginning, but then once we figured out that we could compete, it was game on," Distler said.
Blair Oaks' momentum carried into the next set, which featured four ties on the first 10 points. Emma Schroeder had a kill to give the Lady Falcons a 6-5 advantage.
A kill by Elsie Villmer gave the lead back to Blair Oaks at 14-13, but Rock Bridge went on a 7-2 run to take control.
The Lady Falcons fought off back-to-back set points, getting a big block from Schroeder to tie the score at 24. The Bruins answered with a kill by Emma Roush, then a Blair Oaks attack error put Rock Bridge ahead 2-0.
"That was probably one of the best sets we played," Distler said. "If we could eliminate one or two runs there, that's our set for the taking."
Rock Bridge opened the third set with 10 kills on its first 13 points to build a 13-6 lead. The Bruins led by as many as 12 points (21-9) in the final set.
Blair Oaks closed the gap to eight points at 23-15 late in the set.
"Blair Oaks is always strong, always a good competitor," said Rock Bridge coach Nicole Murphy, a Helias graduate who previously coached at Calvary Lutheran. " They're solid in every six rotations they have and I think it was a great game."
The Lady Falcons got in plenty of work on their defense against the Bruins.
"They wanted to play, just go out there and get everything," Distler said.
Villmer led Blair Oaks with nine kills, followed by Sarah Girard with seven kills. Madi Rissmiller and Emily Tellman finished with 13 and seven assists, respectively.
Payton Mitchell chipped in nine digs, Villmer served two aces and Autumn Bax and Schroeder each had two blocks.
Blair Oaks (20-5) will play Saturday in the Versailles Tournament, which has been moved to Stover.
Rock Bridge will play Saturday in the Grain Valley Spikefest before hosting Helias on Monday in a match that will decide first place in the Central Missouri Activities Conference.
"I know it'll be a very, very good game," Murphy said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Thursday's JV match was a back-and-forth battle, but Blair Oaks kept the zero in the loss column with a 25-22, 23-25, 25-23 victory against Rock Bridge.
Aubrey Hardwick led Blair Oaks (23-0-1) with 10 kills and seven digs, while Bailey Braun and Anna Wekenborg each had nine digs. Libby Juergensmeyer finished with 31 assists.
Blair Oaks also won the freshman match 26-24, 25-17 to improve to 11-5-2.
Amber Samson had a team-high nine kills for the Lady Falcons, Alison Sporleder had seven assists and six aces, and Kassidy Wankum posted six digs.