Feeling nervous to the point of losing all focus doesn’t make too many birthday wish lists.
But when Hickman senior volleyball player Jenny Keener awoke Thursday morning, her 18th birthday started with that exact feeling. Keener’s birthday ended much better than it started with the Kewpies defeating Rock Bridge 25-21, 25-20 on Thursday night at Hearnes Center.
When asked how it felt to be 18, Keener replied “better now,” with a laugh that made it clear the pressure of the match was slowly lifting from her shoulders. The balloons and the silver-and-red crown her teammates gave her as birthday gifts were scattered somewhere in Hearnes Center. Keener didn’t know where. She was too focused on the game.
“It’s been so stressful this week,” Keener said. “I was so ready for this game. Everything has been leading up to this.”
The rivals had a larger crowd than at their first game last month at Rock Bridge’s gym. Keener said she couldn’t hear them because she was so focused on the game. She said she didn’t even realize how loud the crowd was until one of her teammates told her.
Keener said it was a weird birthday for her. She hadn’t seen her family the whole day because of school and her brother’s soccer game. Adding to Keener’s strange day was playing in Hearnes Center. The teams changed the location so both sides could hold their senior night festivities before the game.
Keener said the team was awe-struck the first time it stepped on the floor in the 13,500-capacity arena.
“It’s so big and different,” Keener said. “It took a little longer to get used to the lights and the different environment.”
Keener and the Kewpies adjusted to their surroundings and stepped up their defensive game. Keener has been a big part of the Kewpies’ defense all season with her blocking at the net. Her block in Game 1 halted the Bruins’ momentum.
“I’ve been really proud of our defense lately,” Keener said. “We’ve really been picking it up, especially at practice and during games.”
The loss weighed heavily on Bruins senior hitter Addison Newton, who was on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. She held back tears trying to explain her feelings.
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to win so bad,” Newton said. “I don’t know. Like Coach said we shot ourselves in the foot with the errors we made.”
The Bruins consistently made serving errors throughout the night and those mental errors, combined with the Kewpie’s’ defense held the Bruins in check. They were unable to get their standout hitter, senior Amanda Hanson, involved and she finished with three kills.
A distraught Newton was confident that it wouldn’t be the last time the teams meet this season. They could play again in the District 8 finals on Oct. 29.
“We can definitely beat them and we plan on beating them at districts,” Newton said. “We’re going to do it. It’s all mental for us.”