One year removed from winning the 2023 Dig For Life Challenge Red Division Championship at the Show Me Center in 2022, the Saxony Lutheran volleyball team certainly had hopes of walking away with the trophy again this weekend.
Despite failing to lose a single set all the way until the second round of bracket play, the Crusaders came up a few wins short of bringing home the title yet again.
Saxony ended up falling to fellow Class 3 opponent Valle Catholic 2-1 (15-25, 25-16, 23-25) in the quarterfinal round after a controversial call to end the game. The Crusaders were only down by one at 24-23 and thought a ball hit by the Warriors had been called out, but the referee said a Saxony player had touched it before doing so to end it.
Despite that, the Crusaders still 5-1 overall over the course of two days while recording five 2-0 wins over the likes of Bell City, Clarkton, Lesterville, Poplar Bluff and Winona.
“I was super proud of what the girls did this weekend, and they really fought there at the end,” Saxony head coach Stephanie Brown said. “It obviously didn’t end the way that we wanted it to.
“After losing our first set they easily could’ve been like, ‘You know what we’re done. We don’t need to play anymore’ They came back and fought with everything they had, and they fought till the bitter end for sure.”
Leading the way offensively for Saxony was the duo of senior outside hitters Clara Brune and Grace Ozark, who unshockingly both lead their team in kills. Both players had double-digit kill performances at Dig For Life as Brune recorded 10 versus Valle Catholic, while Ozark had the same amount against Bell City.
Ozark paced Brune in kills versus the Warriors with eight of her own as fellow seniors middle blocker Paige Seibel and outside hitter Annie Adams each recorded five.
“They are all really enjoying themselves, and they’re starting to really click with their setters,” Coach Brown noted. “They’re starting to run more things and just get more confidence.”
Even though the Crusaders have an array of attack wise, they also proved that their defense is just as if not more formidable than their fire power on offense. Junior libero Camille Richey and senior setter Landre Hoehne finished in a three-way tie for the most digs with 18 apiece.
Pacing these two were junior setter Isabel Brown, who dished out a game-high 17 assists as Hoehne had eight, with 14 digs of her own as senior defensive specialist Callie King also had double-digit digs at 10.
“I am super proud of our defense, and I kept telling them that in the huddle,” Coach Brown said. “I told them, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing and then the hitters will put it away.’ The defense is what definitely kept us in that match. They are picking up balls that a lot of people aren’t going to pick up.
“They’re quick on their feet — Callie reads so well and covers those corners so well. Camille does a great job of covering the tips and so do my setters Isabel and Landre. They play with all their heart and aren’t going to let that ball hit the ground.”
Richey led Saxony in serve receptions throughout the entire tournament, while Brown finished as her team’s leader in assists with Hoehne right behind her.
Saxony will have a chance for redemption against Valle Catholic tomorrow on the road. One of the things Coach Brown hopes her team can improve on in the front row is blocking as the Crusaders have only recorded 10 solo blocks all year. The rest of Saxony’s blocks have been assisted as Seibel and Brune are currently tied for the most total blocks on the team.
Another area Coach Brown wants to see her players improve is communication.
“I’m OK to struggle now as long as we piece it all together by the time the end of the season gets here,” she said.