Eagles, Wildcats come up one win short of state

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley senior libero Clara Gower (in white) digs a Platte County hit in their Class 4 state quarterfinal match Saturday at Winnetonka High School. Grain Valley lost 3-0, just one win away from the state final four.

The clock finally struck midnight on a fairy tale season for first-year head coach Tori Squiers and her Grain Valley volleyball team.

The Eagles started the season in a two-week pandemic quarantine and finished by winning their first district championship since Squiers was a standout on the 2013 team.

But the Eagles ran into a buzzsaw Saturday afternoon at Winnetonka High School where Platte County claimed a 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-20) victory in the Class 4 state quarterfinal match.

The loss came after Grain Valley had toppled St. Pius X 3-1 (25-22, 25-13, 24-26, 25-20) in a sectional match earlier in the day.

"We won a huge match against St. Pius," Squiers said, "and now we're not feeling so good after this loss (to Platte County). They're a great team and we wish them a lot of luck.

"But when you look back at this season, it's been pretty amazing. Early on, we didn't think we'd get to play an entire season and win our first district championship since I was playing, and we came a win away from going to state.

"I couldn't be any prouder of these girls."

The Eagles – who use finesse and solid defense because they have just one 6-foot player in sophomore outside hitter Addy Bybee – dominated all phases of the game in beating St. Pius.

"When we lost the third game (24-26) we knew we had to come back and win the next game, and we did," said outside hitter Olivia Williams, a 5-foot-7 junior who finished the afternoon with nine kills, including the game-winner in the first set.

"We were so excited after beating St. Pius and now we're disappointed (after losing to Platte County), but this has been such an amazing season. I wouldn't want to be on any other team or play with any other girls.

"Coach Squiers inspired us this season and we had a great time, even though we lost today."

Senior libero Clara Gower agreed.

"This is a real bittersweet moment for me because I'm a senior and I won't be back next year to play with my girls," Gower said.

"I have so much adrenaline right now, I don't know what to do. I'm happy with our win, I'm sad with our loss and I'm probably going to get home today and cry like a baby."

Squiers praised her six seniors, who played such a key role in the team's success.

"I can't say enough good things about my seniors," Squiers said. "It's pretty amazing to come in as a first-year coach and have a group of seniors like we had. They were great leaders and great players, but most importantly they were great leaders."

They inspired Williams and the other underclassmen.

"Our seniors are the best," Williams said. "I don't even want to think about playing without them. But we'll go on and play next season and hopefully have another great season to honor them for all they did for us this year."

The Eagles finished 21-10-3 while Platte County, which beat Pembroke Hill 3-1 in its sectional, takes a 27-6-2 record to the state championships this weekend at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau. In their last 10 meetings Platte County is 9-1 against Grain Valley.

CLASS 5: Blue Springs mounted an epic comeback victory against Park Hill in the sectional but didn’t have enough to get past undefeated host Liberty North in the Class 5 state quarterfinal Saturday.

After losing the first two sets, the Wildcats rallied for three straight wins to down Park Hill 3-2 in the sectional match.

The Trojans claimed 25-22 and 25-20 wins and appeared to be poised to advance to the quarterfinal. But Blue Springs eked out a 25-23 win in the third set and then tied it with a 25-22 win in the fourth.

A 15-12 win moved the Wildcats into the quarterfinal against unbeaten Liberty North.

“Let’s talk about grit. This team, down two sets to none versus Park Hill, mounted an epic comeback, winning the next two and forcing set five,” Wildcats coach Katie Straka said after her team finished 15-9. “Down 10-7 in the fifth, they said ‘We got this,’ then went beast mode to close out the set. Could not be prouder.”

Blue Springs carried that momentum into the first set of the quarterfinal, winning 25-22. But Liberty North (22-0) dominated the second set 25-11 and closed it out with 25-20 and 25-13 wins to advance to state.

Chloe Kaminski finished the two matches with 30 kills, 30 digs, passed at a 2.4 clip to lead the Wildcats. Anna Christenson led the defense with 63 digs and passed at a 2.1 rate; Ella Duchane tallied 16 kills, 18 digs and four blocks; Lily Letchworth had 10 kills, 34 digs, six aces and 71 assists; and Jalyn Walruff had 13 kills and a pair of blocks