The championship game of the Class 4 District 14 volleyball tournament at Blue Springs High School turned into Senior Night for the host Wildcats.
Seniors Erin Bodenstab, Alexis Williams, Miah Ruffin and Tori Spencer all contributed in a white-knuckle 22-25, 25-21, 25-22 victory over a Lee's Summit North Broncos squad that had defeated the Wildcats twice during the regular season.
“Our seniors came up huge,” said Wildcats coach Katie Grusing, who was animated throughout the nearly two-hour match. “But they've been doing that the past two, two-and-a-half weeks. This was a slugfest, just a nitty-gritty, in-the-trenches win where everyone contributed.”
Williams had 11 kills and served the first eight points of the third set; Ruffin knocked down the game-winning kill in third game to set off a wild celebration; rock-steady Erin Bodenstab had 25 assists and nine digs; and Tori Spencer came up with the game-winning kill in the second game.
“My gosh, we wanted to win so badly for our seniors,” said sophomore standout Alicia Starr, who led all players with 13 kills. “Tonight was all about our seniors. They played so well, we just had to win tonight.”
Grusing said she can condition her team for three-set wins, but nothing can replicate the mental approach to a match like the district final.
“You can train your body,” Grusing said after the Wildcats improved to 14-17, “but nothing in practice can replicate what the girls experienced tonight. They went into the trenches and came up with the biggest win of the season.”
After greeting fans, family members and posing for a team photo, the seniors talked about the importance of the win.
“We were ready for tonight,” Bodenstab said. “We knew they'd beat us twice in the regular season, but we came into this match with a lot of confidence.”
When asked if there was any fear of a letdown following their big semifinal win over No. 1 seed Truman, Bodenstab replied, “No way. There was no way the seniors on this team would have a letdown in a championship match.”
Bodenstab served the final three points of the finale and said the feeling she experienced when Ruffin knocked down the final point was something she will never forget.
“I don't want the season to end, none of us do,” Bodenstab said. “When Miah got the final kill, it was so exciting. I don't know if I've ever felt excitement like that.”
Ditto for the senior middle hitter.
“When I got that kill, I just felt like, 'Oh (gosh), we won,” Ruffin said. “I can't even tell you what I thought after that. It all went kind of blank. We were just looking for someone to hug.”
Williams said hours and hours of practicing her serve paid off in the decisive set.
“I was in a zone,” said Williams, who finished the night with four aces. “We work so much on serving, and it all paid off tonight. This was such a draining night. I'm mentally drained. We're all mentally drained. But we're all happy, too!”
Despite the loss, North coach Rhea Moses managed a post-match smile.
“Our girls never give up,” Moses said after the Broncos wrapped up a 15-16-1 season. “I'm so proud of them. I'm as proud of my girls as I am sure Katie is as proud of her team. This was a great match.”
Blue Springs advances to Saturday’s 1 p.m. Class 4 sectional matchup at Liberty against District 15 champion Park Hill South, which defeated St. Teresa’s in three sets. District 16 champion Liberty will meet District 13 winner Lee’s Summit West at 2:30 and the winners will meet at 4 p.m. to advance to the state final four.
LOCAL OFFICIAL HONORED: Dianne Schmidt, a former teacher at Blue Springs High School, received the Missouri State High School Activities Association Distinguished Service Award at the tournament. She officiated volleyball for 40 years, was selected to work the state championships twice, and was the rules interpreter for 20 years.