Ozark High School’s Becky Justis has been one of the state’s best volleyball coaches in recent years, taking her Tigers to state this weekend for the fourth consecutive season.
But on Saturday, as a fourth season-ending win in as many years was winding to a close, Justis admitted she took a little time to think just as a mom.
It hit her as Ozark closed out a 23-25, 25-13, 25-14 Class 4 third-place victory over Francis Howell that she was coaching her twin daughters, seniors Bridget and Brianna Justis, for the final time.
“All you worry about is just coaching and staying focused,” Justis said, “but I thought about it on about point 23, and I couldn’t cry.
“I didn’t because I have enjoyed every minute of it. I’m ready, and they’re ready, and what better way to go out?”
Ozark (29-9) earned its third straight third-place finish despite graduating top talents throughout the span.
The program will again send a handful of players to college athletics, graduating seniors Payton Anderson, Hayley Hunter, the Justis twins and Jackie Fugate, the only member of all four state qualifiers.
But, as shown Saturday at the Show Me Center, there will be plenty of talent still in the fold for southwest Missouri’s undisputed top program.
Of the 16 Ozark players in Cape Girardeau, 11 will return next year. That includes the five kill leaders for Saturday, a list headed by freshman Kendra Sater, who had 11 kills and also a team-high 13 assists.
Sophomore Sasha Robinson was one of the youngsters who developed as the year went along. She admitted to feeling pressure early on, but said it eased with the guidance of the senior leaders.
“They picked us up a lot,” Robinson said. “And if you were down, they would pat you on the back.”
Ozark needed to pick itself up after Francis Howell (31-9-2) won the first set, taking the final six points. The Tigers looked out of sorts during the run.
Ozark recovered in the second set, as senior Hayley Hunter served her team to six points to knot the match.
“We kind of got the nerves out and brought it together as a team,” Hunter said. “It’s been a long journey, but we really worked to get here and worked to get where we did.”
In the third set, Ozark took control with nine straight points on Robinson’s serve with Hunter as the only senior on the court.
“They really stepped it up and brought everything they had to us,” Hunter said of young players such as freshman Sater, and sophomores Robinson and Ashley Ophoven. “They really helped us seniors out.”
The Ozark seniors made young players feel accepted by keeping things light around the team, Robinson said.
“I love the seniors,” she said. “They know how to have fun, they know how to be a team, and they know how to get the job done when we need to.”
That, and another state trophy, made for another memorable run.
“The bus rides are always crazy, we have so many inside jokes,” Hunter said. “Every day at practice is a new day. It’s always fun, and we always bring ourselves together and work hard.”