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Lady Mules advance to final four

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DUSTIN WARD/SEMO News Service Photo Bernie's Ellen Snider's spikes a ball at Gideon's Camille Randolph and Breanna Berry.
LESTERVILLE, Mo. -- The Advance volleyball team did what it has done so often this season in its Class 1 quarterfinal against Bernie.

The Hornets staged one of the comebacks that became a signature of their season by winning eight of nine points late in Game 2.

But this time it wasn't enough in a 25-21, 25-21 loss to the Mules that ended their season at 28-5-1.

The win advances Bernie to the Final Four at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau Friday. The Lady Mules will be looking for the school's sixth state title in volleyball.

Bernie won its 18th district title to reach sectional play. Saturday the Lady Mules defeated Gideon, 25-15, 25-12, to reach the quarterfinals contest against Advance.

"I just told them it's been a great season," Advance coach Dana Below said. "They didn't give up. We got down seven or eight points. They came back and got right back in there in that game. I told them, I said, 'I'm so proud of you for coming back.' We just had a few little points there that just didn't go our way."

Advance senior Liza Gray took over the Hornets' offense during the comeback. She recorded a kill outside to bring her team to within 17-11.

"I was like, 'No, this is not how this is going to end,'" Gray said.

After a Bernie point, Gray ended four of the next eight points with kills and had another attack that directly led to a point for her team.

Her last kill in the stretch tied Game 2 at 19-19.

"Liza's more of our power hitter," Advance setter Allie Below said. "She's more of our smart, consistent hitter. She's definitely our best hitter when she's on. I knew if I set her, she'd kill it because there's some games where I just know I can set her, and she'll just kill it every time. She did her job. She did great."

Bernie's Tory Lowrey broke Advance's run with a kill on the outside, and Gray was forced to rotate to the back row to serve on Advance's side out a point later. Bernie reeled off four consecutive points to take a 24-20 lead.

Three of those points came on Bernie setter Katie Baker's jump serve. The Hornets struggled to pass Baker's and her teammates' serves throughout the match.

"The last time we played them it made a big impact," Dana Below said about Bernie's serve. "We did not pass their serves well at all. We worked on that getting ready for this game, really working on our serve receive.

"We did better, I think, than we did the last time we played them. It just still wasn't enough. They've got some really good floater serves, and my girls struggle with it. I will say Bernie was very aggressive and consistent with their serving."

Though they weren't often aced, the Hornets also weren't able to produce much offense out of serve receive -- something Bernie took advantage of.

"Float serves -- most of the time they move around and it doesn't look like it's going to come at you," Gray said. "Then it does. Or some of their girls' jump serves dive. It looks like it's going to go deeper, and it just dives all of sudden."

The Hornets advanced to the quarterfinals with a thrilling 25-23, 22-25, 25-19 win over host Lesterville.

Advance had to contend with imposing Lesterville middle blocker Immerah Bethume, who finished with 14 kills and six blocks, throughout the match, but Advance's Aimie Simmers combined with Hannah Clark and then Below to stuff Bethume twice in the first six points of Game 3 that helped the Hornets build a 5-1 lead they never gave up.

"We found out the way she cuts, and whenever you start taking that away it's easier," Gray said about defending against Bethume.

Advance had a 30-minute break between its win over Lesterville and the start of warmups for the Bernie game.

"I think we were fine," Dana Below said. "Were we tired? I don't really think so. Maybe a little, maybe my hitters were overused a little bit against Lesterville, but I'm not going to blame it on any of that."

Bernie advanced to the quarterfinal with a 25-15, 25-12 win over Gideon in the first match of the day.

The victories set up a clash of familiar opponents.

"This group's been a rivalry ever since they were in seventh grade," Dana Below said of Advance and Bernie. "It was back and forth, nitty-gritty girls -- a good group of seniors on both teams that have worked really hard for this, so congratulations to Bernie."

Below said she couldn't believe she had addressed the five seniors on her roster, whom she has coached since they were in elementary school, for the final time.

Her message during her final timeout was a simple one.

"I just told them, I said, 'Now's the time to be aggressive. We're down seven points. You're not being aggressive enough. You're being too careful,'" Dana Below said. "I was like, 'Just get up there and go after it. If you're going to win this you've got to be aggressive.' And I said, 'Quit thinking, just hit the ball.'

"And they did, and they came back. It was just two or three little measly points at the end, and it got us. We ran out of time."

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