TROY — Hickman coach Greg Gunn wanted his team to focus on volleyball this week, so he had a simple solution.
He gave his players volleyballs to carry around for three straight days at school. Some girls, like senior MegAnn Schlader, named their balls. Schlader named hers “Omammy,” while senior Caitlin Keith forgot to carry her ball once, and had to run extra at practice.
The plan worked.
The Kewpies won the Class 4 District 8 tournament by defeating host Troy Buchanan 25-18, 25-16 Thursday night.
“I figured, well, if it’s in their hands, it’s on their minds,” Gunn said.
Keith yelled with joy with the rest of her teammates after the last timeout in the second game, with a look that told the crowd she knew her season wasn’t done yet.
“I was inconsistent at the beginning of the year,” Keith said. “But this is great. We knew we had a chance and it wouldn’t be easy, but we knew we could do it.”
Keith, who started the season on the junior varsity team, carved out a place in the Hickman record book in the finals, amassing six kills in the match and an ace to end Game 1.
The Trojanettes had no answer for Keith, who said despite the raucous crowd, she was only thinking about winning the district title.
“They weren’t that distracting, we’re used to a lot of noise in practice,” Keith said.
Gunn said Keith came up big when they needed her.
“Caitlin was on fire tonight,” Gunn said. “She was hitting the ball really well.”
Keith has emerged this season from a player still learning how to hit the ball properly to having the ability to carry the team like she did for several stretches against the Trojanettes.
In the semifinals, the Kewpies defeated Fort Zumwalt West 25-15, 25-15 thanks to stellar serving. Hickman had nine aces in the match.
Hickman then had a two-hour break between matches and the girls spent part of the time near the bus eating dinner in a circle on the sidewalk. The Kewpies returned before the start of Rock Bridge’s semifinal match and scouted both teams.
Rock Bridge (15-12-3) was nowhere to be found an hour before its match. Its bus showed up 45 minutes late and though players and coach Beth Newton said it had no effect on the team’s play, the Bruins lost a chance to get settled before their match.
Rock Bridge lost 26-24, 18-25, 25-13. Rock Bridge players were visibly shaken after the loss and Newton said the team’s year-long problems with consistency showed in their play.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “We wanted to play Hickman but we battled.”
Rock Bridge Senior hitter Amanda Hanson had only 12 attempts in the match, but managed 11 kills and what seemed like an equal number of compliments from Troy Buchanan outside hitter Casey Key after the match.
“We were all so impressed with you,” Key told Hanson.
In winning their third straight district championship, the Kewpies (18-9-4) advance to play the winner of the District 6 tournament in sectionals at 3 p.m. Saturday in St. Charles.