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Notre Dame volleyball repeats as district champions for first time in 12 years

The Notre Dame volleyball team poses with the Class 3 District 1 Championship plaque for the second-straight season. Photos by Nick McNeal

Last night, the Notre Dame volleyball team was able to do something the program hasn’t since the last time it made the final four in 2010. With a five-set, thrilling win over Fredericktown, the Bulldogs repeated as Class 3 District 1 Champions.

Notre Dame did so in dramatic fashion as it took the first set 25-22 after taking an early lead, but the Bulldogs dropped back-to-back sets, 25-23 and 25-20, to follow. However, Notre Dame remained calm and won the final two sets convincingly (25-17, 15-8) in what truly took a full-team effort.

Having a remarkable night statistically, though, was Bulldogs senior hitter Kristin Anderson as she notched a game-high 22 kills (.391 hitting percentage) and 35 digs while playing in both the front and back row. Fellow senior hitter Grace Young paced Anderson with 12 kills, while Notre Dame senior libero Anna Garner was second in digs with 28.

“We were so excited — I don’t think I’ve ever felt an emotion like that,” Anderson said after the win. “It was great when we won last year’s district championship, but I felt like it was a lot of an easier game than this one. Going into five sets, killing it and beating them by a pretty good amount in the last two sets was awesome. We’re all having so much fun together.”

Recording the match-winning point in the fifth set was senior hitter Tori Rubel, and she helped last year’s team win districts while playing as a middle blocker. Rubel, who now lines up at both outside and right-side hitter, calmly tipped the ball for her sixth and final kill of the night.

In Rubel and the rest of her senior teammate’s junior year, Notre Dame ended a five-year span of not winning a district championship. The Bulldogs graduated five starters from that team, which included current Division-I athletes Rylee McClintock (Little Rock volleyball) and Lexi Rubel (UT Martin basketball).

“This feels really good — especially last year to break the seal and all the excitement,” Tori said. “Back-to-back district titles are really major especially since we lost a lot of players from last year’s team. This year I felt people were like, ‘Oh, they don’t really have a chance.’ We came, and we proved them wrong.

“I feel like both years we’ve really played together as a team and broken that dry spell. Winning with Lexi last year and winning this year all the girls put their all into tonight, and it was really fun.”

Along with Rubel’s six kills, the 6-foot-1 future UT Martin basketball player recorded the second-most total blocks on her team with four. Coming up with the most was her younger sister 6-0 freshman middle blocker Kate Rubel as she finished with a game-high five blocks.

The Rubels finished as the Bulldogs top-two blockers as Kate led with 88 while Tori paced her with 67. Kate eventually took over at middle blocker this season after playing in the role throughout this summer when Tori was out with a shoulder injury.

“I like blocking a lot, so I started off blocking in the middle, but I moved to the right side because I could get more power on my swing because of my shoulder,” Tori Rubel said. “It helped me, and I could also block the strong left hitter a lot, which I think is really good. The front row is where I’m at — it’s where I’m most comfortable, so honestly they could put me anywhere there and I’ll have fun.”

Notre Dame sisters senior Tori Rubel (left) and Kate Rubel celebrate after scoring a point over Fredericktown during the Class 3 District 1 Championship game.

Kate Rubel not only leads the Bulldogs in blocks, but she also has the highest hitting percentage at .373 and is second in kills with a total of 248. She came up with nine kills on top of her five blocks to win not only the first district title of her high school career, but it was also, of course, the first time doing so with her sisters Tori and Brie.

Twin sisters Kate and Brie both fielded offers from D-I Abilene Christian’s basketball program last month, so the sister trio will have another opportunity to win a district championship together on Notre Dame’s basketball team this winter.

“Winning districts means a lot because this team means a whole lot to me,” Kate Rubel said. “Everything about it has just been amazing to start off my freshman year at Notre Dame, and now I can’t wait for next year. … I’ve never gotten to play a sport with Tori — it’s so much fun to play with her, talk to her and everything. We also fix each other’s stuff, so it’s just so much fun.”

Another key aspect Kate brings to the table for the Bulldogs volleyball team is her energy. Following a kill or block made by either her or one of her teammates, she will shout in excitement and flex once she turns around to celebrate with everyone on the court.

“I mean, you just have to do it,” Rubel said. “If you’re down already from the start, how are you supposed to get back up? If you are, then you have to be 10-times more enthusiastic than what you just were. That’s how I play now.”

Outside of Anderson and the Rubels, another key player in Notre Dame’s front row was 5-11 sophomore middle blocker Courtney Tatum, who rotates in for Kate. Tatum finished the game with seven kills and two blocks as she was instrumental to help create and maintain runs throughout the match.

Other top contributors for the Bulldogs were setters freshman Claudia Jones and senior Emma-Claire Self combined for 46 of the team’s 49 assists with 24 and 22, respectively.

Self also had 19 digs, while Garner received 51 serves on top of finishing second overall in digs. Junior defensive specialist Aubrey Neumeyer finished third in digs with 21 and produced the most aces for Notre Dame with five.

“Just looking at last year’s district championship, the amount of seniors that were starters from that team — what we lost — it speaks volumes about our team this year,” Notre Dame head coach Meridith Brinkmeyer said. “I know just talking to a lot of people, they were just kind of questioning if we could get back to a district championship. These girls have put in so much time, effort and energy to make it to this point. I could not be more proud of the effort they’ve given me all season.”

In sectionals, Notre Dame fell to Ste. Genevieve 3-2 (15-25, 27-25, 25-20, 20-25, 12-15). The Dragons advanced to the final four after beating Ursuline Academy 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

Anderson led the Bulldogs with 15 kills and 40 digs, while Kate Rubel had 10 kills and seven blocks. Garner notched 61 digs, while Tori Rubel recorded eight kills and four blocks.

Notre Dame seniors and their coaches poses with the Class 3 District 1 Championship plaque.

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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