From the outset, Kickapoo’s plan was to keep a much younger Glendale squad from building any momentum and gaining any confidence in the early going on Thursday night.
And even though Glendale played with intensity beyond their years from the opening serve, Kickapoo was able to hold off the Falcons in a tightly contested first set and then finish off Glendale in straight sets to avoid the upset.
The Chiefs remained perfect in Ozark Conference play by winning 25-22 and 25-16 at Glendale High School.
“We felt like getting out front and gaining momentum and trying to get them down early was key,” Kickapoo coach Debbie Downs said.
“In the first game, we started out good and then it was nip and tuck, but in the second game, we did a better job of that.
“It’s always important to win the first set, no matter who you’re playing.”
Kickapoo (16-8, 7-0) jumped to an early 10-5 lead in the first set before Glendale (12-11-2, 5-2) began to chip away at the deficit.
Mistakes by Kickapoo gave Glendale four of the next five points and an ace from Falcons’ freshman Kelsey Larsen cut the Chiefs’ lead to one point, at 11-10.
The score remained close from that point, as Kickapoo couldn’t build a lead bigger than three points the rest of the set.
A kill on a free ball at the net by Glendale freshman Emma Brand tied the score at 19-all as the Falcons clearly had momentum on their side.
But a kill by Kickapoo senior Courtney Kinney stopped the rally, and a block by senior Emily Thater and back-to-back kills from senior Maris Below finished the set in convincing style for the Chiefs.
“We were ready to play in the first set and we played hard; just a few balls here and there and it might have been different,” Glendale coach Stephanie Bates said.
“In the second set, we couldn’t get a side out — we couldn’t get a pass to get a side out — and our defense was worse.
“(We didn’t do) all those fundamental things of volleyball that you have to do to win against good teams.”
Sparked by a freshman of its own, the veteran Kickapoo squad calmly and methodically executed its offense in the second set.
Freshman Rachel Rippee’s four kills in the second set staked the Chiefs to a 15-9 lead as Kickapoo began to pull away for good.
“I think she’s got great leadership with the kids around her and they took her in and I don’t think they have made her feel like a freshman,” Downs said of Rippee.
“They felt like she was an important part of this team and they gave her a lot of confidence.”
Two more kills from Below and one kill each from Kinney and junior Rae Myers gave Kickapoo its largest lead of the night, 21-12.
“Winning the first set was huge,” Rippee said. “We carried the momentum into the second set and we beat them in two and that was big for us.”
Below led Kickapoo with 10 kills, Rippee had eight kills and one solo block and Thater had one solo block and two blocks assisted.
“Thater is a force at the net,” Below said. “At 6-foot-3, she can get anywhere you need her to be; she’s a great blocker.”