The Rapid City Christian volleyball team was well-removed from its last match heading into the final round of the Region 8A tournament Thursday evening.
With a regular-season slate that ended early and a first-round playoff bye, the Comets went 12 days without a competition while other teams sweated out their opening rounds.
But instead of coming out in a lull, top-seeded RC Christian was eager to play again and started its match against rival No. 4 St. Thomas More by seizing 13 of the first 17 points en route to a 25-17, 25-19, 25-16 straight-sets victory at Hart Ranch to clinch a spot in the Class A SoDak 16.
“We just have a lot of grit,” Comets sophomore Anna Egge said. “And we practiced games so that we wouldn’t fall behind, and we just knew what we were getting into and came out with fire.”
Egge collected a match-high 20 kills, while Olivia Kieffer tallied 14 kills and 15 digs and Kylie Kallio picked up 35 assists for The Comets (25-9).
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“They were very excited to play tonight,” RC Christian head coach Elizabeth Kieffer said. “They had a week and a half off, and they were just ready to play.”
Mairin Duffy and Reese Ross notched eight kills apiece for the Cavaliers (22-14), while Dani Godkin tallied 12 assists.
“Christian always starts out strong, so it’s something that we have adjusted to,” STM head coach Shannah Loeffen said. “I think every time we play Christian my girls progress in learning how to mentally rebound from how they come out so strong.”
Alexa Ham tipped over a kill and successfully solo blocked an attempt as the Comets roared out to a 6-0 advantage on Egge’s serve to begin the match. Egge then grabbed a pair of kills and Kendall Glassbrenner dialed up an ace to help extend their squad’s lead to 13-4, which was stretched out to 20-8.
The Cavaliers started to find a groove, as Ross recorded her first kill and picked up two more along with a lowly-slapped ace, and seized eight of the next 10 points to make it a 22-17 first set, but Egge closed it out with three straight kills for her team.
Kieffer began finding looks early in the second set as she notched back-to-back kills, the second a slammed shot off a dig, to aid in an RC Christian lead, but a Ross-Megan Lee combined block helped keep things close for St. Thomas More in the early going.
Ahead 7-6, the Comets started to break away by winning eight of the next 10 points. Egge had three kills and a combined for a block with Ham on the stretch before tallying two more to aid in a 21-11 advantage. Lee dialed up two kills on a 5-0 run for the Cavaliers to get back within five, but their deficit was too much as their opponents snatched the set for a two-sets-to-none lead.
“Who we have in the back row makes a difference,” Loeffen said of the run. “That’s something that our program has struggled with, is defense, so I think that’s something for us to work on.”
With one more to go, Rapid City Christian rolled through the third set and made it its best frame of the night. Kieffer punched in four kills for an early 11-3 advantage as errors started to pile up for STM, which soon fell behind 18-11. Consecutive kills from Egge capped off four straight points for the Comets and contributed to a 6-2 run to bring up match point.
Duffy, a senior in her final high school volleyball match, spiked back-to-back kills as St. Thomas More staved off elimination three times, but Egge finished things off with her 20th and final kills of the evening to give Rapid City Christian the victory.
“It was a great group of girls and it meant a lot to have so many different leaders and different types of leaders,” Loeffen said of the season, now losing half her team to graduation. “Their shoes are going to be hard to fill.”
The Comets, seeded No. 5 in the SoDak16 will play No. 12 Parkston on Tuesday at a neutral site for a spot in the Class A state tournament. The site and time is TBA.
“It just means so much that we can go so far in our season,” Egge said. “We knew that we could go far and we had a goal to get to State. We just wanted to do well and go far, and it just means so much.”
Contact Matt Case at email@example.com