(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
ORAN -- Sikeston's dominance within the SEMO Conference has blossomed into a dynasty.
For the fifth time in as many years, the Sikeston Lady Bulldogs sit atop their conference as champions after defeating New Madrid County Central in three raucous sets 24-26, 25-20 and 26-24.
"We feel really accomplished," Sikeston senior Monica Carter said. "I'm very happy with our team and that we pulled through. It was a tough game because New Madrid played really well. Just really happy. Really happy."
Carter and fellow senior Trenice Greer have never played a season for the Lady Bulldogs volleyball team and not won a conference championship. Although, this may have been their toughest title clinching game yet.
"They came out ready to play," Greer said about NMCC. "I told the team, 'whichever team wants it the most will get it.' Thankfully, it was us."
Fighting through late game adversity has been Sikeston's biggest challenge by far throughout the season. More times than not, close games have fallen to the wayside because of Sikeston's inability to finish.
That was not the case Thursday.
"It was our five-peat and we've done it for so long. I would hate for it to be my senior year and we ruin the tradition," Greer said.
"I think we knew that we've held this title for four years and we wanted it again," Carter added about finally clawing out a close game. "We wanted it, bad."
Exchange student Esther Chinwuko came up huge in the most pressure-packed situations for the Lady Bulldogs, including back to back kills that clinched the championship.
"When we needed it the most, she came through at the right time," Sikeston head coach Steve Beydler said about Chinwuko. "She got some big kills just at the right moment when we needed to keep the momentum up to put them away."
Chinwuko, who came into the season speaking very little english, finished with seven kills -- five of which came when the score was inching closer to 25 for both teams.
"She was definitely my 'hot hand'," Greer said about Chinwuko. "I told her to be ready at all times because she was getting the ball every single time if I could. I'm glad she came over to play with us. She's one of the biggest hitters on our team. She's adapted really well."
The Lady Eagles didn't make title No. 5 an easy one for Sikeston. NMCC fought for a nail biting, first set victory, 26-24. NMCC never let the Lady Bulldogs break away either causing every set to stay within five points the whole way through.
"It takes a lot of metal toughness to be in that situation, back and forth, and be able to finish it out," Beydler said. "When your backs to the wall it's easy to roll over. We had to work hard to get back and I'm really proud of these girls."
Each set went back and forth between the two from start to finish. The third set alone went through 10 lead changes, 13 ties and was never separated by more than three points.
The Lady Eagles began the third with a quick 3-0 lead but Sikeston just as quickly took a 4-3 lead and held it until NMCC tied it at 9-all.
Each team scratched for advantages until the score hit 19-19. NMCC scored three-straight points to take a commanding 22-19 lead after a kill by Jessie Cowan.
NMCC even took a 23-20 lead after a Sikeston receiving error. But the steadfast, backbone of the Lady Bulldogs, Greer, shined with a powerful kill to the right side of the court and then an ace to draw with one, 23-22.
"Both Trenice and Monica provide leadership," Beydler said. "When we did have a few heads drop or get down by a few points, I can count on one of them to step in and get the team pulled together. Both perform their roles very well."
Chinwuko tied the game-deciding set with a soft kill in the middle of NMCC's defense at 23-23. Sikeston took a 24-23 lead after a NMCC return went out of bounds, but the Lady Eagles tied it once again when Alecia Nelson found a hole for the kill.
Needing two points to secure a victory for either team, Chinwuko answered the call with both game-winning kills for the 26-24 win.
"The goal was to get five and let these two seniors go away with another championship," Beydler said. "But, they didn't have to make it quite that exciting for me. This old man was having a heart attack on the sidelines."
Following their first set loss, Sikeston tied the match with a 25-20 second set victory. An ace by NMCC's Hunter Hewitt tied the set at 18-all but two kills from Chinwuko and two aces by Greer put Sikeston ahead 23-18 and in good position to close out the set.
"If we needed a side-out, we knew we could go to them," Carter said about Greer and Chinwuko. "We put the ball in front of them and we could count on them to put the ball down."
Greer ended the match with 10 kills, five assists and three aces. Lauren Beydler led the team with 12 assists and also added two aces.