With several freshmen starting on both sides of the net, it was ultimately Ozark’s seasoned leadership that proved to be the difference in a 25-20, 25-16 win over Glendale on Tuesday.
Ozark has several key players returning from a team that made the state semifinals and took third place last year, but also has some inexperienced players thrust into a starting role.
Led by seniors Jackie Fugate and Brianna Justis, along with junior Ivy Reynolds, Ozark was able to withstand slow starts in both sets and came back to win both.
Ozark trailed early in the first set 3-0, then rallied to score the next five points and took the lead 5-3 with help from a kill by Fugate and back-to-back aces from Brianna Justis.
Leading 10-8, Ozark scored the next four points and took a 14-8 lead after another kill at the net by Fugate.
Kills from Reynolds and Fugate, and two from sophomore Caroline Clifford, gave Ozark a 23-14 advantage in the first game, before Glendale scored the next six points and cut the deficit to 23-20.
“Tonight we did not control the things we have the ability to control,” Ozark coach Becky Justis said. “At moments we did and other moments we didn’t.
“At times we would roll off four or five points that were great, then we would have four or five points where we didn’t control it on our side.
“We’ve got to play more aggressive and with more confidence and we’ve got to find consistency.”
Ozark started quicker in the second game, but trailed Glendale 8-6 before scoring the next four points to take a 10-8 lead.
Glendale rallied to cut the lead to 12-11 before Ozark’s experience again delivered.
Two kills from Reynolds, one from Clifford and an ace from senior Hayley Hunter gave Ozark a 16-11 advantage.
“Having (Reynolds and Clifford) on the team takes some pressure off of me,” Fugate said.
“I can rely on them to hit, because I know if they get the ball, it’s probably going to go down.
“I don’t have to worry that it’s all on me, because I know I have other hitters on my team who can get the job done.”
Ozark (2-0) held a 20-16 lead and went on to score the final five points, ending the match on a kill from Fugate.
“This is Jackie’s fourth year on varsity and with three final fours under her belt she just needs to dominate and take control of the team and of the net,” Becky Justis said.
Glendale (1-1) started three freshmen and two sophomores that played most of the match and doesn’t list a single senior on its roster.
“I think our underclassmen did a good job tonight, but I think we need to be more consistent in everything we do,” Glendale coach Stephanie Bates said.
“I don’t think they played like freshmen tonight and I think they’re only going to get better as the season continues.
“We might be a tough team to beat at the end of the season.”
Fugate and Reynolds led Ozark with six kills and Brianna Justis had 14 assists.
Freshman Jane Kickham led Glendale with five kills and three aces while freshman Kelsey Larsen had 10 assists.