After dispatching host Waldron in the opening round of the 3A West volleyball tournament and then losing to top-seed Paris, Booneville faced Mansfield last Thursday with a state tournament bid on the line. And after the first game, they were in the driver’s seat for that berth as they had taken out the Red Tigers 25-16.
TheLadyCats were within one point of taking a commanding two-set lead as they got up 25-24 and 26-25, but they couldn’t close the deal, and after several volleys Mansfield had emerged with the second-game win. That gave them what’s called “volleyball momentum”, and MHS went on to take the final two sets, and with it the bid to go to Paris next week.
With five conferences in Class 3A, the state tournament consists of all the first, second and third seeds and one fourth seed, which rotates among the conferences. It was the turn of the 3A South to get their fourth seed in, and therefore Booneville will miss the state tournament for the first time since 2008. While the LadyCats were clearly the best among the fourth seeds (and ranked higher than two of the third seeds and even one of the second seeds) according to MaxPreps’ rankings, they will not get to show their prowess on the floor in Paris.
LadyCats def. Waldron (25-12, 25-22, 25-20)
The Lady Bulldogs took the early lead but a Keara Ross kill put the LadyCats ahead to stay at 8-7. Taylor Miller followed with two kills and with the score 13-10, Booneville broke it open on Emma Ramey’s serve. Miller got another spike before Aleeah Blansett rocked home two kills and Ramey served an ace. After the teams traded side-outs, another Blansett kill set up the game-ending 5-0 run in which she picked up another kill and Maddie Herrera served her second ace of the match.
Waldron again led early in game two, but this time they stretched it to 16-11 before a Brooklyn Zarlingo kill put Herrera on serve. She promptly ripped two aces and Blansett scored with three kills in a row and BHS was back in front. Blansett added a fourth kill and Ramey and Ross added one each; Ross then served an ace and Blansett ended the game by rejecting a Waldron kill attempt. And the 6-0 senior was just getting started; the first four Booneville points of the third set came via Blansett kills. She followed with a block and Zarlingo put down two in a row for 8-6. Blansett would later get another run of three kills on three points, this time on Kelsey Mikles’ serve. Before it was over, “Blondie” had added three more spikes and totaled 10 for the third game alone.
That gave Blansett 20 kills for the match; Miller added seven and Ross five. Herrera had four aces and 31 assists in the match.
Paris def. LadyCats (25-14, 25-12, 25-10)
The LadyCats came flying out of the gate as Taylor Miller, Aleeah Blansett and Brooklyn Zarlingo each got a kill which, when combined with two Lady Eagle errors, put Booneville up 5-1. But Paris righted themselves and scored the next six before Blansett’s kill halted that run. An ace by Maddie Herrera and a Ryleigh Hardwicke hit into the net put the LadyCats back up, but after another kill by Zarlingo, Booneville couldn’t hold their serve until Raven McCubbin got a point on hers. But by then it was 23-14, and PHS got the last two points.
Blansett started the second game with a kill and Booneville led 4-3 after a Paris mistake, but after a side-out by each team, the Lady Eagles ran off eight in a row on Hardwicke’s serve. Emma Ramey’s kill stopped that, but there was no letup for Paris. Blansett served an ace and Ramey got another kill later, but it was much too late to help. Ramey ripped an ace to start the third game and Blansett walloped two kills to keep it close, but another eight-point run by the Lady Eagles gave them control. BHS tried to fight back, with Ramey and Miller picking up kills on consecutive points, and two PHS errors got it to 14-8. But that was almost all the LadyCats could muster as Paris rolled up an 11-2 run at the end.
Blansett finished with seven kills, with Ramey adding four. McCubbin and Zarlingo did a good job slowing down the other half of Paris’ dynamic duo of hitters in Joni Inman, but Hardwicke did more than enough damage, with 17 kills and several aces.
Mansfield def. LadyCats (16-25, 28-26, 25-20, 25-18)
Aleeah Blansett had three early kills to set the tone for the first game and Kelsey Mikles added an ace as the LadyCats were quickly on top 6-2. Later, Mansfield committed a series of errors, including letting a Keara Ross free ball fall amongst them, and it was 13-6. The Red Tigers tried to get back into it, but Booneville put together a show of force with Blansett getting three kills, Brooklyn Zarlingo one, and Emma Ramey scored with a back-row attack. That made it 22-14, and two more Blansett kills—giving her nine for the game—ended things.
Early in the second game, Blansett scored with two kills, taking her past Haley Carter for the single-season kill record. She would add a block and an ace and Ramey threw in a kill as the LadyCats overcame an early deficit to take the lead. Taylor Miller got two kills soon after and Ross scored with one as well for 12-10. Mansfield would later tie it at 18 and at 19 but a kill by Ramey made it 21-19. The Red TIgers weren’t going down quietly, though, and had a game point at 24-23 but Zarlingo put one down the line to tie it. Blansett followed with a kill and Booneville had a game point of their own, but committed an error. They immediately had another chance after a Blansett spike made it 26-25, but again they couldn’t get the point, and Mansfield followed with three in a row for the win.
Booneville looked to have righted themselves early in the third game as Mikles served up an ace after Miller got a kill, but Mansfield broke out of a 5-5 tie with eight straight points before Miller threw down two in a row to give her 200 for the season. She quickly added another as BHS sought to stay in the game and following a kill by Ross, two by Blansett and another Mikles ace, they had closed it to 15-12. Zarlingo got a kill and Maddie Herrera got an ace, and a Red Tiger mistake tied the score at 16. It was also tied at 17 after a Blansett throwdown, but Mansfield pulled out a short lead before Ross got a kill for 21-19. The LadyCats got the next point, but gave up four in a row after that and Mansfield took a 2-1 lead.
Booneville errors and Rylea Weaver kills staked the Red Tigers to a 5-0 lead in the fourth game. As it had been in the third game, Mansfield got it out to 10-4, but the LadyCats closed it to 14-10 after a Blansett kill and a long MHS hit. Later, kills by Blansett and Ramey got BHS within 17-15, but that was as close as the LadyCats would get. It became 23-16 before Mansfield again hit it long and Ramey then got the last kill of the season, but on match point a LadyCat hit went long.
Blansett finished with 20 kills for the match, her sixth match with at least 20 kills; it had only been done once before, by Jordan Weaver. Miller added nine kills, Zarlingo seven and Ramey six, while Herrera racked up 37 assists in her final match as a LadyCat. Four Booneville players had 10 or more digs, led by Ross with 15, but in the end the LadyCats could not overcome 21 kills by Weaver, the Red Tigers’ middle hitter.