Camdenton volleyball sweeps West Plains to capture district championship

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
The Camdenton volleyball team celebrates its Class 4 District 8 championship on Tuesday, October 27, in Camdenton. The Lakers sweeped West Plains in three sets to capture the title.

Camdenton senior Jackie White was ready for the moment. 

When junior teammate Sarah Holmes set the ball above the net near the left end on their own side of the court, White delivered a spike that sent the ball off the hands of West Plains blockers and out of bounds. The kill ended a 12-year district championship drought for the Lakers as they swept West Plains in the title game of the Class 4 District 8 Tournament on home floor Tuesday night (25-15, 25-10, 25-19).

A dog pile celebration in the center of the floor quickly ensued. 

“Before they (West Plains) served that game point, my setter Sarah told me, ‘You call it, I’ll set it,’ so I called it, saw it coming through the air and knew I just wanted to kill it. When I saw that ball drop, we just went crazy and it was the best feeling, it really was,” White said of the play that helped deliver the program’s first district championship since 2008. 

Camdenton had swept West Plains before in the third game of the season back on September 10 in the Ozark Conference opener for both teams. It gave the Lakers confidence in addition to sweeping Rolla the night before in the district semifinals, but the Lakers still had to get the job done and they did not disappoint, despite West Plains securing an early lead in all three sets. 

A 5-1 run helped Camdenton take the lead for good after securing a 9-8 lead in the first set, the team quickly won the second after taking a 2-1 lead and the Lakers battled through some of the finale before breaking a 12-12 tie and taking the lead for good en route to a championship.

“Every single day during practice we had the mindset that we were going to win. Our coaches are awesome and push us so much,” said Camdenton junior Payton Kincaid who led the Laker attack with 12 kills on the night, some of which were smacked down with authority. “They gave us the mentality that we are going to win. We knew we could beat West Plains and we knew we had to put work in at the same time.” 

The Zizzers never led by more than four points in any set the entire night as Camdenton mostly stayed calm, cool and collected and Coach Austin Walker attributes that to treating this game like any other, even with a district championship on the line. 

“We’ve been taking it one game at a time. We’ve got an end goal, but our goal is to just take it one game at a time, five points at a time and every game is the same, it is just another game,” the coach pointed out, noting there still may have been some nerves with the size of the home crowd the team had on hand Tuesday night. “I think it was kind of intimidating that all these people were here, but I think they kind of just settled in and played. Once everybody got going, the momentum is just huge when you get to play at home. I think beating them early on was a huge confidence boost for us and knowing that we could do it. This group just has to keep believing they can and it starts tonight. We believed we could and we did.” 

Walker has kept that belief, too. 

She became a head coach for the first time when she took over this Laker program back in 2012 and after reaching a district championship for the first time a season ago, her program can now officially cross that milestone win off the list.

“This one feels nice. It has been a long time coming,” Walker said with a smile after leading Camdenton to a district championship for the first time since Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach Ann Gulshen did so 12 years ago. 

Coaching in her 291st game Tuesday night, Walker’s 138th win is one she will be especially sure to remember, but she immediately pointed to her players for making that a reality. 

“It is so awesome and a testament to our kids, most importantly. Day in and day out, no matter what, they’ve come the last two years and have just worked their butts off,” the coach remarked. “They put in the time in the offseason, too, and I think that has been super important to where we can sharpen up our skills. It is the kids, it is all the kids and they’ve done a great job for us.”  

That continuity and the team’s ability to rely on each other was on full display Tuesday night as the team simply just looked to be in a rhythm, committing very few errors, and putting all the pressure on the Zizzers to earn every point the visitors could get. Lakers dived for loose balls to save points and brought a relentless attack offensively throughout the night.  

With Kincaid leading the offensive attack, Miranda Hadfield delivered 10 kills for Camdenton, senior Sydney Smith had nine and White finished with four while junior Mya Hulett added three and senior Delaney Van Buren finished with a pair of kills. Smith, junior Elle Turner, Kincaid and senior Olivia Whittle each served an ace and Smith set up 18 assists while Turner finished with three and Holmes added three while Whittle and senior Brooklyn Stidham each had an assist. 

“Payton has just come on here in the last month and a half. She has kind of figured out what she needs to do to carry the team and she is just a beast,” Walker said of the junior’s efforts leading the offense. “She wants the ball all the time and all our kids do. They get frustrated when they don’t and they just want to be the one to do it. Right now, that is exactly what we need. We need people to step up, we need confidence and I’m just so proud. 

On the defensive end, the Lakers did not allow any Zizzer attacker to record more than seven kills on the night. Whittle led the way with 27 digs, Kincaid added 13, Stidham put together 11, Smith had eight and Turner added five as Camdenton finished with 73 digs overall. Kincaid also added a block. 

“Our serve receive and defense has been nails,” Walker noted. “I was just watching film of Olivia last night and she keeps the ball off the court. Her and Payton and Brooklyn just stay so consistent and we do not freak. I think that is a maturity thing and as we’ve played more they just kind of stuck to it and figured out ways. 

“Our defense has been great, our hitters have been so confident and kind of everything you need to be rolling right now. It is working and we are so excited.”  

All this after Walker also pointed out that last week was the first week since the start of the season that every player on the roster was in the gym. The COVID-19 pandemic had forced some players to go into quarantine and it shuffled up the roster from time to time, but the coach and her staff have simply encouraged their players to not take anything for granted and make the most of their opportunities. It seems the message got through, but there is also a high level of trust and team chemistry in the equation, too. 

“Usually you just have that senior group that stands out from the rest, but seniors, juniors and sophomores- the talent is just equal throughout so we can just switch people in and out no matter what,” White pointed out. “When people were gone and quarantined, we had people we could just throw right in and not have anything to worry about which was awesome.”  

Well now, the Lakers will be looking to go full speed ahead and firing on all cylinders after earning a spot in the Class 4 State Tournament. 

“We just have to have the same mentality. We know that we can make it, we know that we can win state,” Kincaid said of the road ahead. “We just have to have the same mentality we’ve had all season.” 

Camdenton (25-5-3) will either be taking on Lutheran St. Charles (11-6-2) or Fort Zumwalt South (12-5) on Saturday afternoon. Lutheran St. Charles had nine games cancelled during a two week stretch in October and Fort Zumwalt South has played 17 games all season, none of them in tournament action until the District 6 Tournament got underway. That championship was scheduled to be decided Wednesday night and the Sweet 16 matchup will be hosted by the winner of District 7, either Warrenton (21-4) or Hannibal (12-6-1).  

“We are in the postseason now, the state tournament, and we’ve punched our ticket so we have to get back to work tomorrow,” Walker said, noting there will be quite a bit of scouting to do in the coming days. “We win this, we celebrate it tonight and then tomorrow we are back to the grind. Just keep working at it and get back to the ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ of it in practice.” 

The Lakers are now just four wins away from a state championship. 

“We’re just going to be pumped this Saturday, it is going to be great,” White said.