HOLTON – After winning 18 of its last 21 regular season matches, the Abilene Cowgirl volleyball team entered postseason play as the sixth seed in the Class 4A West division and assigned to the Holton sub-state tournament.
The dream of making it to state for the four seniors was dashed after the Cowgirls fell to Holton in the championship match 25-21, 25-23.
Saturday the Cowgirls started off slowly and sluggish in the opening match against the Pratt Lady Greenbacks. Pratt, the 11th seed scored the first four points to begin the first set before Abilene senior Makenna McGivney followed a kill with an ace from the serve line to bring the Cowgirls within one point at 4-3.
Two plays later senior Chesney Sprinkle slammed a shot past Pratt for a 4-5 score. Cowgirl senior captain Beth Holmes put Abilene in front with an ace serve and they would not trail again in the opening set. However, throughout the set Abilene had trouble closing out the Greenbacks and had to fight off two ties and a frantic rally to win 26-24.
Junior Reagan Ditto went down early with an injury and sophomore Taya Hoerner stepped up to replace her in the rotation. Abilene led by as many as eight points but needed a kill from sophomore Jenna Hayes and a Pratt error to get the opening win.
The second set looked like the Cowgirls played down the stretch of the season. They jumped to 6-0 lead with power shots from junior Autumn Fitzgeralds and Sprinkle to get the Cowgirls rolling.
Sophomore Emma Wildman placed a shot between Pratt’s front line and the net to push the Cowgirls to a 15-4 lead and following two scoring plays by Hayes, Abilene was leading 17-4. Pratt rattled off three straight scores before the Cowgirls got a side out. Sophomore Joy Clemence served up an ace to push the Cowgirl lead.
Following another Pratt rally, Fitzgeralds and Hayes had scoring hits to put the Cowgirls at 24-13. Hoerner ended the match with a scoring tip to send the Cowgirls to the championship match against Holton at 25-16.
The Cowgirls were facing a rested Lady Wildcat team that not only had home court advantage but also had the support of large loud student body cheering section. Holton was also looking for revenge against the Cowgirls after losing to them in the Rossville tournament earlier in the season.
The first match of the championship match was nearly point for point as the two evenly talented teams went back and forth at the net for a 4-4 tie. Abilene senior Olivia Howie served an ace to give Abilene the lead at 5-4. It was short lived however as Holton rattled off the next four points to take over at 8-5.
“We dug ourselves a hole way too early but the girls fought hard,” Abilene head coach Jade Koch said. “Even though we haven’t played in a week, the girls stayed really focused in practice and they have been working hard.”
Holton senior Cailin Parks slammed home a kill to give the Wildcats the lead, a lead they would not relinquish throughout the opening set.
Holton, a strong blocking team, increased their advantage to a six-point lead after three straight kills and a scoring block. The Cowgirls battled back to get within three points at 24-21 but couldn’t get the ball to fall in their favor dropping the opening set 25-21.
After the Wildcats took a 4-0 lead to open the second set, Sprinkle got a scoring tip to get the Cowgirls on the board. Holton went on a scoring run of six straight points before Holmes got a tip to fall, Hoerner and Wildman teamed for a scoring block and Wildman slammed a shot at the net to bring the Cowgirls back within five points.
Another run by Holton gave it a 10-point lead at 18-8 on another strong block at the net by seniors Kinleigh Rhodd and Paige Crouch.
With the score 21-12, the Cowgirls made a hectic comeback as Hoerner, Sprinkle had a couple of kills each and Howie came back with an ace and all of a sudden Abilene was within one at 22-23 forcing the Holton coach to call her second timeout within five volleys. Continuing to battle and fight, the Cowgirls could not get closer however as the Wildcats won the match and the sub-state championship with a 25-23 score.
The loss ended the Cowgirls season and finalized the careers of four seniors Beth Holmes, Makenna McGivney, Olivia Howie and Chesney Sprinkle after four very successful years in the Cowgirl volleyball program.
“The seniors are amazing,” Koch said about the group in the locker room. “They are really irreplaceable and have been great leaders on and off the court for us. The juniors are really going to have to step it up to replace their leadership. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of seniors this year.”
Koch ends her first season as Cowgirl coach with a 25-14 record, a share of the NCKL league title and a sub-state runner up. The Cowgirls will return a core group of juniors Ditto, Fitzgeralds and Ashton Roth along with sophomores Hayes, Wildman, Hoerner and Clemence and they had a strong junior varsity program and an undefeated freshman team to draw on for the future.