ROLLA — Hickman coach Greg Gunn sat on the stage of the Rolla High gymnasium Saturday a half hour after the Kewpies’ season-ending loss to Marquette. As he watched Marquette and Glendale warm up for a quarterfinal match, he said he knew his team could have been out there.
“We’re capable,” he said. “It’s not that I think they were a better team than we were. They played better than we did.”
Gunn was left to imagine what could have been for his Kewpies, who were beaten 25-17, 28-26 in their Class 4 sectional match.
“At this level, the teams are pretty evenly matched,” he said. “Everybody’s got their strengths and their weaknesses, and it just boils down to who’s able to maintain their composure, execute their game plan and do the things that they need to do.”
Marquette (31-4-2) accomplished all of the above and went on to beat Glendale 14-25, 25-17, 25-22 in the quarterfinals late Saturday night. It will play Park Hill South in the semifinals Friday in Warrensburg. St. Joseph’s plays Incarnate Word in the other semifinal.
It was a bitter end to an otherwise successful season for Hickman, which finished 32-2 and won its first district championship since 1991. On this night, though, the Kewpies were outplayed almost from the start. Brenna Schlader, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker for the Kewpies, said she could tell something was wrong before the game started.
“We didn’t really warm up well today,” she said. “I think everyone was content with the feeling that we won district, which we haven’t done in a long time, and I don’t think anyone was ready for this big of a game.”
The pressure situation didn’t seem to bother Schlader, who finished with a team-high six kills and almost helped Hickman pull out a win in Game 2.
With the Kewpies on the brink of elimination at 24-23, Schlader blocked Kathryn Sprague, a 6-4 senior whom the Kewpies had trouble trying to stop all night long.
Moments later, at 26-25, Schlader tied it again with a kill off a Danielle Newton set. Newton finished with 16 assists.
Hickman couldn’t capitalize on the momentum, though, for two errant passes erased hopes of a Kewpies’ comeback win.
“I don’t think there was one particular point that we lost it,” outside hitter Veronica Smith said. “I just think there was some momentum that wasn’t taken advantage of.”
Sprague was not the only tall player with whom Hickman needed to contend. Marquette had four players 6 feet or taller. Schlader and Naomi Tesfamikael, a 6-foot middle blocker, are the only Kewpies that big.
Most of the Kewpies chose to play down Marquette’s height advantage.
“Honestly, I think that the whole 6-foot thing, we were kind of intimidated,” outside hitter Paige Ely said. “Our team’s pretty tall too. And you can be tall and not play good.”
Said Gunn: “If you are able to get a good set and use your height to your advantage, then yeah, it’s going to be an advantage. But if we would have been able to hit the ball at them more effectively and not allowed them to get the ball to their setter so easily, they wouldn’t have had those easy kills.”
Then again, Marquette also came in against an intimidating number: Hickman entered with one defeat this season.