Over the course of the regular season and tournament play, the Aurora Lady Houns were undefeated in six sets against perennial rival Mt. Vernon. Why should it have been any different with a trip to the state playoffs on the line?
After dispatching Cassville in two sets (25-17, 25-7) last Wednesday, the Lady Houns matched up again with the Lady Mountaineers in the district championship. And while Mt. Vernon had the home-court advantage, Aurora had what mattered in the end: the district champions plaque.
Even after so much success against the Lady Mountaineers this season, it wasn't an easy match for the Lady Houns, as the home team took the lead early in the first set. Tied after the first ten points, Aurora's big hitters eventually found their rhythm, helping the team to build a slight lead over a motivated Mt. Vernon squad.
But the lead wasn't a safe one, and the Lady Mountaineers came back to grab a brief 20-19 lead before kills by senior Rachel Negre and junior Julia McVey put the Lady Houns back on top. Mt. Vernon would hang around to tie it at 23-all before successive kills by senior Baylee Husmann and sophomore Brooke Bellamy put the first set away by a score of 25-23.
The second set began as a close one as well, but a kill by senior Emily Moore and an ace by senior Jacy Heller gave the Lady Houns a 5-3 lead and some momentum. Aurora built the lead steadily without allowing their opponents much of a run, and eventually finished them off with a thundering kill by Moore, at which point the team rushed the floor in celebration.
After a disappointing finish in districts last year, the first under coach Skye Wade, the victory was sweet for the Lady Houns, who finished undefeated in Big 8 Conference play for the second year in a row. But the celebration was short-lived, as the team began to prepare for Saturday's sectional matchup with Helias Catholic.
Unfortunately for the Lady Houns, who hosted the sectional and quarterfinal rounds, Helias came in with confidence and hard hitters, making quick work of Aurora in straight sets (25-12, 25-9). The Lady Crusaders would go on to defeat Logan-Rogersville next to advance to the Class 3 final four.
Despite the final loss, the season was undoubtedly a successful one for the Lady Houns, who finished with an overall record of 29-4-2 on the season and district and conference championships.
Next year's squad will look to replicate this season's results and even go deeper into the state tournament, but it will have to do so without a handful of key players. Five players on the starting lineup will graduate this year -- Moore, Husmann, Negre, Kaylee Huffman and Kiersten Coatney, along with Heller off the bench. Fortunately, Coach Wade will still have two of her top hitters coming back in McVey and Bellamy.