With a deep tradition in the sport, the St. Francis Borgia Regional volleyball Lady Knights are thrilled to be returning to Cape Girardeau.
Borgia (30-4) qualified for the MSHSAA Class 3 State Tournament by winning its sectional at Incarnate Word Academy last Saturday.
“It feels great,” senior setter Abby Lynn said. “I’m so excited. Words cannot express how excited I am.”
Borgia’s other senior, defensive specialist Anna Eckelkamp, knew this team was capable of making the state trip.
“It feels really good,” Eckelkamp said. “I knew we could do it, so it’s just nice that it came true.”
Borgia is hunting for its 11th state title and first since 2013. The Lady Knights have quite a tradition. The team has won 22 district titles in a row, 31 in the last 33 years. This is the second year in a row that the team has advanced to Cape Girardeau and third time in four years.
Borgia will open pool play Friday against Logan-Rogersville in the Show-Me Center at 4 p.m. That match will be on Court 1.
Borgia then moves to Court 2 to play St. Michael the Archangel at 6 p.m.
The Lady Knights face Windsor at 8 p.m. on Court 1.
The third-place match will be played Saturday at 6 p.m. The title match follows at 7:30 p.m.
This year’s team has both youth, experience and tradition.
There are few who aren’t familiar with the state experience, starting with first-year Head Coach CJ Steiger.
“I’m going to have to call some of my friends to get the rundown,” Steiger said. “Brad Bruns is going to be getting a phone call.”
Bruns, one of Steiger’s closest friends, was Borgia’s head coach when the Lady Knights won the 2013 Class 3 state crown.
Another state rookie is sophomore outside hitter Lily Brown, who transferred from Kirkwood.
“I did not expect this at all,” Brown said. “It really turned out amazing. I’m happy I moved here. It’s like a family. They’ve been so welcoming. We’ve had a great season.”
Brown is part of a sophomore group which has played a big role in Borgia’s surge this season.
“We have six sophomores on the team and we all work hard,” Brown said. “We all go to practice and try hard every day. We’re just a team. We got here because we worked hard.”
For another sophomore, libero Annie Arand, you can say that going to state is part of her DNA.
Her mother, Laura (Dill) Arand, was on Borgia’s 1984 Class 3A runner-up in 1984, Borgia’s first state team. Her aunt, Julie (Dill) Danaher was part of the first run of state champions in the late ’80s. Both played collegiately for Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau.
Annie’s older sisters, Janie Arand and Molly Arand, were members of Borgia’s 2013 state championship team.
“It’s a lot to live up to,” Annie Arand said. “It sets the bar pretty high for me, so that’s good.”
Arand said the six sophomores have worked together to help the team be able to return to the state meet.
“It’s been pretty good,” said Arand. “We all have a really good connection. We’re all pretty close to each other, so we use each other’s energy to keep building.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
All of the players know the job is far from over.
“It’s going to take a lot of energy, a lot of grit and a lot of fight,” Arand said.
“It’s going to take all of us to keep it going,” Lynn said. “Every one of us worked and that’s why we’re going to state. All of us, whether on the court or on the bench, all of us coming together will keep us going.”
Eckelkamp said it will be more of the same in practices.
“I think we’re going to have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Eckelkamp said. “We have to work hard in every practice and take nothing for granted. When we go, we have to fight for every point and don’t give up unearned points.”
Brown knows the team will play the same way it practices.
“We’ve got to keep working hard at practices,” Brown said. “We’ve really put in a lot of work. I think we’re going to come together and be ready for state.”
Steiger knows there is a lot of strategy involved in the state tournament. In its last two trips, Borgia has placed third. Last year, the Lady Knights lost in a playoff game to Lutheran South for a spot in the title contest.
“We have to focus,” Steiger said. “We have the ability and talent. We just need to keep our focus and play as a team. They do a great job of that. As long as we do that and not have holes in our game, we have a chance.”
Across the state, three other teams are undergoing the same preparations to excel in the Class 3 Championships.
Defending champion Logan-Rogersville (33-4) leads the tournament.
St. Michael the Archangel (21-9-2) moves up from Class 2, but has a history at Class 3. The Kansas City school is a combination of three Kansas City schools, including the former Archbishop O’Hara, a seven-time state champion. O’Hara’s last title came in 2010.
The fourth team is Windsor (23-9-5).
Logan-Rogersville looks to 6-1 senior outside hitter Birdie Hendrickson for leadership. She has knocked down 434 kills this season with 310 digs, 24 assists, 53 total blocks and 18 aces.
When Hendrickson is off the net, senior Claire Taylor has knocked down 247 kills. Junior Ashley Warren has 109 kills and senior Libby Kish has added 105 kills.
Logan-Rogersville swept Reeds Spring in the quarterfinals, 25-10, 25-17, after winning over California in the sectional round, 25-10, 25-10.
The 2018 state title was the first for Logan-Rogersville, which also has finished second twice, third three times and fourth once.
St. Michael the Archangel placed fourth in Class 2 in 2017 and moved up to third last year.
St. Michael has three main attacking threats, senior Abigail Salanski (192 kills), senior Taylor Westhoff (175) and senior Colleen McNamara (103).
The team has recorded 230 aces this season with five different players at 30 or more.
The Lady Guardians swept Odessa (25-11, 25-17) and last year’s fourth-place team, Pleasant Hill (25-6, 25-16), in the sectional event.
Windsor of Imperial is the newcomer this year. The Lady Owls defeated Notre Dame to win its district and followed up with wins over Ste. Genevieve (25-13, 25-18) and Perryville (25-19, 12-25, 25-14) in the sectional event.
The school has won only two previous state trophies, with the only title coming in Class 2A boys track in 1978. Windsor also finished fourth in baseball in 1992.
Windsor played two area teams this year, beating Union Sept. 5, 25-14, 25-18, and splitting with Pacific in the Windsor Tournament Sept. 7.
Windsor has a balanced attack with five players logging over 100 kills. Freshman Lexi Menne leads the team with 187 while senior Alyssa Vaughn is next at 166. Senior Abby Bailey has recorded 158 kills. The others over 100 kills are junior Sydnie Kube (114) and junior Lidya Sokolic (101).
Senior Taylor Duncan has served 54 aces and senior Ally Moore is next at 49. Overall, the team has served 229 aces.
Moore is the digs leader at 472. Duncan has 220 and freshman Grace Lowery has 200.
Duncan is the team’s main setter with 654 assists.