Most teams are not used to having a Senior Night for the first game of the season. Then again, most teams do not usually have to contend with a global pandemic, either, but Camdenton was ready to go nonetheless in its first game of 2020.

Most teams are not used to having a Senior Night for the first game of the season.

Then again, most teams do not usually have to contend with a global pandemic, either, but Camdenton was ready to go nonetheless in its first game of 2020 against Eldon Tuesday night. The Lakers took care of business, winning three of the four sets played in a new best-of-five series.

“It is such a blessing. You never know the opportunities you are going to get and especially with this whole pandemic going on,” Camdenton senior Sydney Smith said. “Definitely don’t know if we are going to have a full year so being able to do it at the beginning and celebrating every person who has worked so hard as a senior is just amazing.”

And what made it even sweeter for Smith is that she just happened to have the game-ending kill to finish the night, the only kill that happened on a game point in any of the four sets.

“It was so special,” she noted. “I have worked so hard in practice and my teammates keep pushing me 24-7. I would not be able to do it without them.”

Camdenton captured the first set of the night 25-20, leading by as much as seven points. Eldon stormed back in set two and won by the same margin, extending its lead to as many as nine. The rest of the night favored the Lakers who left little doubt with leads that grew to as many as 11 and 12 points, winning the final two sets by final scores of 25-14.

For Camdenton coach Austin Walker, it simply came down to eliminating service errors and making the Mustangs have to play defense.

“The difference in every other set to set two is we kind of had the mentality that we have to control the pace of it,” the coach pointed out.

“We have to continue to serve aggressive, but capitalize and serve in the court to make them have to play the ball. Proud of our effort, proud of the way we came back and finished sets three and four. Put a stamp on it in set four and did not look back from there.”

Eldon certainly had a brief spark, but Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington noted that she has certainly seen better outings from her club, even though the Mustangs only had seven available players for the varsity match due to injuries or illnesses.

“We played all summer and several tournaments really well. We just did not play well tonight,” Wrye-Washington stated.

“You cannot coach tactics and strategy if we cannot serve and pass the ball and that broke down tonight. We had a couple that just could not pass the ball and they’re our primary passers... Maybe it was nerves, I’m not sure, but hopefully we can get back on track for the next game.”

Seniors Miranda Hadfield and Smith led the way with 11 kills each for Camdenton while junior Payton Kincaid and senior Jackie White put up eight kills each. Smith and fellow senior Brooklyn Stidham had a pair of service aces and Smith also led the way with 18 assists while junior Elle Turner added 14.

“Sydney has played a lot of volleyball and a ton for us. I think she kind of found her groove there going to sets three and four and worked on establishing herself, even as a setter, and on that front row right there,” Walker said of the senior. “She kind of just relaxed, would dump the ball, got some kills and just went back behind the service line and just served confidently. I think that was a huge factor.

“She is a great all-around player and kind of just has to play her game,” Walker continued. “Sometimes we can overanalyze things- I know this group can- and they want to win so bad and be the one to do it. I think that was a good step-up moment and a way to take the lead in that.”

Walker also took some time to commend Kincaid’s efforts.

“She made an adjustment from the first set, came into her own in the second and third and especially during the fourth set, getting comfortable and getting some kills,” the coach noted. “She is going to be a game-changer for us when she gets hold of that ball and gets more confidence.”

On the defensive end, senior Olivia Whittle had 19 digs while Hadfield finished with 14 and Stidham put up 13. White also made her presence known with three blocks at the net while Smith finished with two.

Overall, a senior-led effort helped Camdenton reach the finish line and Walker is used to this group having some success. After starting with an undefeated freshman season, some helping a junior varsity team have a one-loss season and eventually helping the Lakers win 23 games a season ago and reach a district championship game, there are some big expectations.

“This group has the grit and determination and their goal is to beat that district champion or whoever we play,” Walker said. “They want to be the best at it and we are working on being confident in that. I think a lot of times, no matter the opponent, they can intimidate us and this group has turned that around a little bit.”

The hope, obviously, is that this team will get that chance to find out what can be accomplished in the midst of a pandemic. So, every moment together becomes a little more special.

“Olivia played great and digs great balls, Jackie is just strong and big out there, Miranda was smart tonight and had some great shots that were just barely out of bounds and Delaney (VanBuren) made the adjustment on the block. Sydney and Brooklyn dug some great balls,” Walker continued, touting this senior class. “These girls are so special to us and we are happy we got to honor them tonight... We are taking it one by one and celebrating the small things, working on small victories and points. Every little thing, you have to celebrate it.”

Eldon’s offensive attack was led by junior Caroline Beckmann who put up 20 kills on the night to go with four service aces while also contributing three blocks and 18 digs, defensively. Beckmann was recently named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Phenom list, honoring some of the top players in the country.

“It is great to be listed there. There is a lot more to her game than what we saw tonight,” Wrye-Washington said. “She is still working on a few shots I’m teaching her, but obviously the level she can play at is phenomenal. She is very deserving to be on that list.”

Sophomore Haley Henderson added five kills and junior Jade Hall finished with four for Eldon Henderson also had two service aces and sophomore Addie Davis led with 28 assists. Junior Tatum Frank put up eight digs, Davis had seven and Hall also added three blocks at the net.

Eldon (0-1) hosts Centralia in its home opener and Senior Night on Thursday and like Camdenton, Wrye-Washington is hoping for a full season as well to see what this group can do.

“It is hard living through these times right now with COVID and a lot of uncertainty,” the coach said. “Just trying day by day to get better.”

Camdenton (1-0) visits Rock Bridge in Columbia on Thursday.

“Staying together as a team, communicating a lot more and just pushing ourselves to the limit is going to get us really far this year,” Smith said of the road ahead.