Gideon with Risco beats Clarkton in three-set thriller in Tri-County championship
HOLCOMB, Mo. - After a dominant first set, Gideon with Risco looked poised to coast through Friday’s Tri-County Conference Tournament final against Clarkton. But halfway through the second set, the second-seeded Lady Reindeer found the momentum to force the only three-set match of the entire tournament.
Bolstered in part by a raucous crowd inside Holcomb High School Gymnasium, the Lady Reindeer’s form continued throughout much of the third set. Despite the effort, a late rally by the top-seeded Bulldogs helped them hold off Clarkton 25-14, 20-25, 25-22.
“We’ve played them two times this season...and it’s always tough to play against a team that you’ve seen so many times,” said Gideon with Risco coach Kristen Ashabranner after the game. “Three miles separate us. Just a crazy game, but oh, how exciting.”
The Lady Bulldogs blitzed out to an early lead in the first set, thanks in part to pummeling kills from Whitney Bixler. After claiming the first set 25-14, Gideon with Risco went on a 7-0 run to start the second set before Clarkton slowly mounted a comeback.
“In the second set, we kind of let the momentum slip through our hands,” Ashabranner said. “We got a little lax there and just didn’t pass the ball where we needed to (and) missed a few crucial serves.”
Clarkton put together small scoring runs before tying the set at 13-13, thanks in part to Lady Reindeer’s student crowd which roared across Gideon’s side of the court to cheer on their team.
Lady Reindeer coach Amy Cowart praised the crowd for helping her team back into the game.
“Our pep club—they have been awesome,” she said. “Every game that they’ve shown up for this year—they have been a factor in our games. They just hoot and holler and do a good job of keeping our spirits up.”
Clarkton continued to play well through the rest of the second set to win 25-20 and force a deciding third. The set tied three times at 3, 8 and 16 before Gideon regained enough control to win the championship.
“In the third set we battled back and we played hard,” Ashabranner said. “We played some really good defense in that third set. They knew where our holes were. They knew where to hit the ball. We tried to cover it. We didn’t do the best job, but we pulled it off.
“(During) those last few points, our defense played really well.”
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 20-4-1 in a season in which they’ve already won Gideon Invitational Tournament.
“(We are) looking for some good things in the next few weeks. I’ve got a really good group of freshmen and sophomores that are going to help me at the end of the season.”
Cowart glowed about Clarkton’s performance after the game, saying: “I’ve been waiting for that fight all year long, so for them to show up tonight—I couldn’t have asked for more fight from them.”
She praised the team’s positive mentality during a dire second set, which helped the team turn their game around and nearly upset their rival. During one critical time out, she recalled telling her team not to put pressure on themselves and to have fun.
“Have fun and enjoy your teammates and enjoy the game that we all love,” she explained. “They said in that moment when they were down 8-0, that is what they were reminded of. We’ve got to still have fun, and that pulled them out of the depths.”
Clarkton’s record stands at 18-10-1 after the championship match. Cowart hopes it adds experience to a very young squad that’s looking to win 20 games this season.
“I’m bringing everybody back next year,” she said. “I don’t have a senior on this team. “That was seven sophomores and a couple of juniors that I had on the floor tonight. I just reminded them too that more important than a volleyball game, that fight is going to carry them way farther in their life. If they’ll keep that fight, they’ll conquer anything that life throws at them when they get older.”