COLUMBIA — Sophie Cunningham returned just in time.
The sophomore outside hitter for Rock Bridge volleyball team had been sidelined with a bruise on a bone in her elbow for the majority of the season. Cunningham was an All-District selection as a freshman last year, and her impact was evident in Rock Bridge’s 25-11, 25-3 victory against Hickman in the first round of the Class 4, District 9 tournament on Monday at Rock Bridge.
“Honestly, I was super psyched for this game,” Cunningham said with a volleyball size ice pack around her right elbow. “It was Hickman versus Rock Bridge, and I really wanted to get out there and have fun with my teammates again.”
Cunningham did more than have fun. One of her game-leading 10 kills was so thunderous that it ricocheted off Kewpies libero Samantha Nielesen’s hands, flew straight up and crashed into the gym ceiling.
She was happy to say that she felt no pain in her elbow. Despite Cunningham’s success, Bruins coach, Robin Sherman, said she has plenty of room to improve.
“She was rusty and needed a lot of hits tonight,” Sherman said. “I told her before the game that it didn’t matter if her shots went out of bounds a couple of times as long as she kept swinging.”
The Kewpies had upset on their minds after losing a close match to Rock Bridge last week, in which Cunningham didn’t play.
Hickman went up 7-3 to open the first game Monday. Then Rock Bridge junior setter Ali Kreklow called out for the Bruins to go on a run. A 13-point swing put Rock Bridge in the lead for good.
“I think it took us a bit to get into the flow of the game,” Cunningham said. “Carly (Offerman) was back there for so many serves, and Ali (Kreklow) had some great passing to get us going.”
The Bruins advance to Tuesday's district semifinals where they will host Hannibal.
“I think our chances are good,” Sherman said. “As long as we come mentally prepared, I think we will be OK.”
Hannibal defeated Rock Bridge in finals of the district tournament last year and has 26 wins this year. If the Bruins win the first game at 6:15 p.m., they will play in the district finals shortly after at 7:30 p.m.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but if we just take it one game at a time and stay as sisters we should be fine,” Cunningham said. “Last year we lost by two points, and we really don’t want that to happen again.”