Bennett from the Bleachers: 21-10 volleyball goes out in Districts

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

Down 24-13 in the second set of the District semifinal, Webster volleyball head coach Molly Dean signaled for a timeout. She wanted to talk to her team in the huddle one last time.

“I told them that whether they play one more point or they come back and play 16 points, I was really, really proud of them. The fact that we were losing, the fact that we lost the first game, it didn’t show how we were playing,” Dean, the youngest head coach in the state, said. “This was the best I’ve seen them play all year.”

The Stateswomen’s District semifinal loss to St. Joseph’s in straight sets ended an outstanding 21-10 season that was Dean’s first at the helm, but five seniors’ last.

Dean had kind words for each of the five: Lauren English, Maggy Moran, Gracie Faulkner, Grace Early and Morgan Kern.

“Lauren English was one of those where every time I see her she’s just dominating the court. My expectations at the beginning of the year were very high, and she somehow found a way to exceed them,” Dean said. “Maggy Moran stepped up throughout the year, it just kept getting stronger and stronger. She kept plowing through everything and putting the team above her.”

On Faulkner, Dean said with a laugh, “She’s one of the most intense girls I ever met. Her desire to win and to get out there and make sure all 11 girls were giving their all all the time was a really important part of the season.”

Early, who became the team’s libero late in the season, was “one who flew under the radar at first, but just stepped up and played her heart out,” according to Dean. “She never looked for recognition, but she was a steady player all year.” She added on Kern, “All of a sudden, I would think the ball was dropping and she would show up out of nowhere and pick the ball up. She would make these huge game-changing plays and it’s like, well, there’s Morgan Kern again.”

But in the playoffs, St. Joe’s (25-2), a nationally ranked powerhouse led by Penn State-bound junior Gabby Blossom, daughter of Webster men’s basketball head coach Jay Blossom, was just too much in the end. They went on to win the District title against Nerinx, also in straight sets, on Wednesday.

Playing on pure momentum and energy early on in the semifinal, Webster’s 5-0 run tied the first set at 12, forcing a timeout out of St. Joe’s and sending Roberts Gym into a frenzy. After the timeout though, St. Joe’s buried the upset-minded Stateswomen with a 13-3 run to end the set. Again in the second, Webster hung around early on before St. Joe’s pulled away.

“Not many people get St. Joe’s to call a timeout,” Dean said. “Our girls were so pumped up and so excited.”

The season-ending defeat came a day after a dramatic three-set victory over the rival Pioneers from Kirkwood.

After sweeping the Pioneers in both regular season matches, Webster held them off 25-21 for a first set victory to extend their winning streak against Kirkwood to five sets, but the Pioneers survived a late surge from the Stateswomen to take the second set 25-23 and force a winner-take-all third.

“The girls never overlooked Kirkwood, they’re a tough team,” Dean said. “The fact that we had just lost that second set to them, especially battling back on a nine-point deficit, that fired us up. I think we came in and realized … we will not end our season to Kirkwood.”

The third set was anything but comfortable, as the Stateswomen were narrowly in front 10-9 before English led a vital 7-2 run with three kills. Webster cruised after that, not allowing Kirkwood to get it closer than four points in what ended up being a 25-17 win.

Dean said, “That whole District tournament, they were more fired up then I’d seen them all year, which was just a lot of fun.”

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