Dragons at MSHSAA Volleyball Final 4
Year, placement, record (head coach)
- 1977: 3rd place, 30-3 (Peggy J. Johnson)
- 1979: champs, 31-0 (Peggy J. Johnson)
- 1980: champs, 28-1-1 (Peggy J. Johnson)
- 1985: 2nd place, 23-4 (Peggy J. Johnson)
- 2008: 4th place, 24-9-4 (Dennis Drumm)
- 2022: ???, 32-4-2* (Carla Stoll-Basler)
* still playing
BY MICHAEL BOYD JR.
HERALD SPORTS EDITOR
OAKLAND, Mo. — Ste. Genevieve is headed to Cape Girardeau … again. State bound that is!
For the first time since 2008, with the last coach to take them that far in attendance, the second-ranked Dragons are going to the MSHSAA Class 3 volleyball championships after holding off Ursuline Academy in the state quarterfinals late Saturday afternoon in a packed house at UAHS. They may have broken the program record for number of wins in a season as well at 32 victories.
With a fanbase that rivaled the host’s attendance here in this St. Louis city subdivision, an hour away, the veteran-loaded Dragons came home victorious — 18-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18 — and they are packing their bags for their ultimate road trip this weekend with a four-game defeat of the all-girls academy.
“Let’s see: speechless, overwhelmed, excited,” said senior libero Maya Watts, who hit the floor an uncanny amount of times this day. “So many emotions right now. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I can’t get over this. It doesn’t seem real, I can’t even explain it. I will be celebrating forever. I don’t know if I’ll even sleep tonight.”
Well, she is going to need some rest the next few days as the next stop is the final four at the Show-Me Center on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.
“Pretty awesome,” Dragons’ head coach Carla (Stoll) Basler said of going to state. “Every coach dreams of this and I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to go with.”
The courts at SEMO are familiar to Ste. Genevieve, which played there in early September, winning the Black Division bracket at the 63-team Dig for Life Tournament.
The cardiac Dragons (32-4-2), who have seven seniors, had seven aces, 46 kills and 46 assists offensively, and 15 blocks and 72 digs defensively.
But they must have been nervous early on after the host Bears (14-12-1) claimed the opening set too easily, and the second game did not start out any better, down 5-0.
“Nerves for sure,” said senior outside hitter Arie Taylor, daughter of first-year school Superintendant Paul Taylor. “(In the fourth set), there was no moment to breathe because it was still anybody’s game and anybody could come and take it. When we finally got to match point, we could just breathe a little bit.”
In the end though, Ste. Genevieve is the one advancing this Thursday and hopefully Friday for the first time since former head coach Dennis Drumm took the 2008 squad.
“Nerves, a little bit,” said Basler, who is only in her third year at the helm. “(Ursuline) served really aggressive and we just struggled a little bit with remembering that ‘if (the ball is) above my shoulders, then open up because it’s out (of bounds).’ Then we struggled passing, plus our serve receive wasn’t our normal serve-receive formation. So I believe that was a little bit of nerves and jitters.”
The Dragons, who have won four straight and eight of their last nine matches, struggled early against 5-foot-11 college-bound setter Sophia Mika and 6-foot middle hitter Molly Higgins as both seniors haunted the net.
But Ste. Genevieve was resilient to the end, rallying to win the final three rounds to take it all in four sets.
None of those three rounds came easy.
“You never know when you have (the match) in hand,” Basler said. “You think you have it in the third set and then you start letting them get back into it. Until you get that final point, you don’t sigh a relief just yet.”
The Dragons can breathe easy for a few days after senior outside hitter Dru Koetting hammered the final kill to seal it. Thus the celebration was on as they jumped wildly in the air, then group-hugged on the floor with tears of joy and disbelief.
“It’s indescribable,” said Taylor, who had a two ace serves, 15 kills, four blocks, 12 digs and 19 receptions. “There’s no one word. We’ve worked so hard for this and it just feels absolutely amazing. Not at all did I think we would be in this position a few weeks ago. We just dug in and focused on this moment and doing this for each other.”
Watts was all over the floor defending every opposing spike she could. She had a match-high 30 digs and 19 service receptions, while offensively serving three aces plus a kill from the back line and two assists. Not bad for a player dealing with a sore ankle since districts.
“Not just I hustled my butt off, but my whole entire team,” Watts said.
Koetting, who struggled with her serves at times during the match, still led the offensive attack with 21 kills plus three assists and an ace serve, along with three blocks, nine digs and 14 receptions.
“Dru was frustrated,” Basler said. “She couldn’t figure out what was going on, and when she can’t figure out what it is, she gets a little bit down on herself. But I felt even when she messed up her serves, she still played some phenomenal defense.”
Senior Tessa Grass, who had the match-winning block in the state sectionals against Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau), finished her day with an ace, and five kills, five blocks and three digs.
Senior Alli Byington had an ace, 13 receptions, six digs and two blocks. Sophomore Joleigh Parker had three kills, one block, two assists and two digs.
Senior Devyn Basler had 23 assists and six digs. Sophomore Sophia Huck had 12 assists, two digs and one kill.
Junior Hope Schmelzle had one kill, two blocks and one dig. Senior Lexy Palmer had two receptions and one dig.
Sophomores Kale Clements, Kailynn Harmon, Abby Boyer and Grace Joggerst each will join the trek to the SMC.
Ursuline last made it to the final four in 1994, but lately the program is on a resurgence after only finishing 3-29-1 four years ago.
Mika, who was a freshman on that squad, clearly showed why she’s going to part of the NCAA Division II Colorado State-Pueblo Thunderwolves next season, spiking passes that looked like were on its way to her fellow frontline teammates, thus catching the Dragons off guard at times. She finished with seven kills and had three blocks.
The Bears’ 14 victories this season is more than their last three campaigns combined.
The Dragons now face the fifth-ranked Pleasant Hill Chicks (25-8) at noon Thursday at SEMO.
The Chicks defeated Odessa Bulldogs in five sets in another quarterfinal.
Defending state champion and top-ranked Blair Oaks Falcons (31-3-1) and the Eldon Mustangs (24-13-2) both qualified for state and will meet each other in the other semifinal.
The Wardsville-based Falcons swept Lutheran-St. Charles Cougars in their quarterfinal.
The Mustangs defeated the Seneca Indians in four sets in another quarterfinal.
Ste. Genevieve is the fourth team from the MAAA Conference to reach the state semifinals over the last five seasons as Arcadia Valley, Park Hills Central and Valle Catholic each have made it since 2018. … The second-ranked Dragons are only one of two conference teams to win 30 plus matches and are also one of six state ranked teams in the conference: Central (Class 3, 11th) Farmington (Class 4, 7th), Fredericktown (Class 3, 7th) Potosi (Class 3, 8th) and Valle Catholic (Class 3, 13th). … Blair Oaks is the team that knocked Ste. Genevieve from No. 1 ranking even though the Dragons were riding a huge unbeaten streak. … The 1979 state-champion Dragons under the late Peggy J. Johnson (Miss J), who the SGHS gym is named after, finished undefeated at 31-0 for the previous school record for seasonal wins. … No matter how the Dragons fare at the state final four, the 38 matches they already have played is the most the program has ever played in a season. … The Dragons will have played 40 volleyball matches once done at the final four.
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“Now we know we’re guaranteed two more games. That mentality that this may be their last game is kind of a heavy mental piece.”
— Coach Basler on the heading to the final four
“I don’t know if you saw it, but out here in Position 5, Devyn (Basler) trips over her own two feet a little bit and that made the girls laugh and loosen up a bit. And you kind of see Dru (Koetting) smiling, so things kind of turned around a little bit. I don’t know if we can give Devyn all that credit but it loosened them up a little bit. Then you see Dru smile again when she hit that line shot. I think it hit the (Ursuline) girl in the face. She finally got that hit and she just smiled. We just play so much better when we smile and laugh.”
— Coach Basler on calming nerves
“I think that’s a hard expectation to come in and expect to play a perfect game. It’s more about cutting down on the errors and we kind of focus on how can we eliminate a few of those errors and get out of our own heads a little bit. We’ve asked, ‘once you relax and smile, don’t play better?’ They said yes.”
— Coach Basler on nerves
“We play uptight when we’re nervous. In the second set, we just realized we had to come out and play and give it our all because it could be our last. I think everybody finally realize that and we just kicked it into gear and kept going.”
— Taylor on the start of the match
“It felt like in Set 1 and part of Set 2, we were being hammered at. We wanted to be the ones on the aggressive side and making them scramble, and that was kind of reversed of how we wanted to play, starting out.”
— Coach Basler on start of match
“Coming into it we didn’t really know. We didn’t have a bunch of scouting, but as the first set went on, we learned then what we needed to do to win. (Ursuline) came out swinging, that’s for sure. We adjusted, we blocked. our defense was phenomenal today.”
— Watts on rough start
“We did a really nice job of coming back in the next three sets and controlling the pass a lot better.”
— Coach Basler said on early setting errors
“Maya does such a good job of reading the hitters and I know she’s always hard on herself if she misses (a dig).
— Coach Basler on Watt’s defense
“That was one of our timeouts, maybe mid-third set. We’re going to make the impossible, possible. There were some plays where I don’t know how they got the ball up, to be perfectly honest. I was like, okay that should’ve been down but no it’s not, we kept it alive, hustled. So I commend our girls on having that fighting spirit.”
— Coach Basler on their defense
“When we were up 2 to 1, we were like they were not going to stop, not going to give up, so we had to keep pushing, and we pushed harder than they did and we came out with a W.”
— Watts on not letting up
“We kind of figured out that No. 14 likes to tip more, so we weren’t focused on putting the ninth double on her. We were kind of single-blocking her and having the front row pull off to cover the tip so we weren’t leaving Maya high-and-dry back there.”
— Coach Basler on Ursuline’s 6-foot senior middle hitter Molly Higgins
“I can’t take all the credit. I was given a really talented bunch girls. I do have to give Dennis a huge shootout. Plus he’s a great mentor anytime I have a question because we’re really close and he’s helped me in so many ways. He’s an amazing person and he deserves some recognition.”
— Coach Basler on former head coach Dennis Drum