The Abilene Cowgirl volleyball team has effectively turned its season around. Since struggling in the early weeks to finish and put the opponent away, they have found the IT factor that was missing. After placing second in the tough Rossville tournament this past weekend, the Cowgirls earned two huge wins over North Central Kansas League rival Chapman Thursday night in the Abilene gym.

It was nip and tuck, back and forth through both matches, but the Cowgirls reached down and were able to finish off a very good eighth-place ranked Lady Irish team.

Chapman was 11-4 coming into the double dual in Abilene and were deserving of the ranking they earned from the KVA. Abilene entered the match after getting four battle tested wins at Rossville at 6-10. The Cowgirls had struggled to get two wins in their first 10 matches of the season.

With the IT factor in place, the Cowgirls were clicking Thursday night with better passing than they have had all season and the front line was able to get just enough blocks and power shots to land in bounds to get the two important wins over Chapman.

“Two really big wins tonight,” said a happy Abilene head coach Jade Koch. “Not only is it a rival school but it is against a really good ranked Chapman team. They are deserving of being ranked. They are a really great team. They have some really strong hitters.”

In the first set, the score was back and forth and at one point late in the opening set the Lady Irish led 18-14. The Cowgirls then battled back to tie and with a kill shot from junior Reagan Ditto Abilene took a 19-18 advantage. The Cowgirls went on to win the first set 25-22.

The second was much like the first set as both teams battled back and forth as the score never varied more than three points either way. After Abilene got a couple of slam shots from middle blocker Emma Wildman, the Cowgirls held a 20-18 lead.

Chapman senior setter Peyton Suther then powered two scoring points wrapped around an earned side out and the Irish had rallied for a 21-21 tie. Chapman senior outside hitter McKenna Kirkpatrick slammed home a kill followed by a shot from senior Courtney Lewis and the Irish led 24-22. Abilene earned a side out but Chapman came back for a 25-23 win in the second set.

“I don’t know what the IT factor was because they have been doing really well in practice but something has clicked,” Koch said. “I think I say this every time when I see their potential but it wasn’t transferring on to the court – now it finally is transferring. They have had IT all along, it just took a little while to kick in.”

The Cowgirls got some big net play from senior Chesney Sprinkle, junior Autumn Fitzgeralds and Wildman and with improved passing started by senior setter Beth Holmes, Abilene led 9-5.

Chapman senior Ashlynn Bledsoe landed a kill before Abilene’s Ditto returned the favor for the Cowgirls and the scored once again bounced back and forth through the set. A Fitzgeralds kill followed by two aces from designated senior server Olivia Howie gave the Cowgirls a 13-8 lead.

Kills by Sprinkle, Fitzgeralds and sophomore Joy Clemence pushed the Cowgirls lead to 21-14 in the third set.

Kirkpatrick powered three kill shots in an Irish rally and the score was Abilene 23-20. Fitzgeralds got a big hit for Abilene and the Cowgirls scored the final two points to win 25-20.

Abilene took the early lead in the first set of the second match before the Irish tied the score three times with McKenna Kirkpatrick getting a slam shot at 14-14. Chapman freshman Sophie Cavanaugh gave the Lady Irish the lead at 15-15 and Chapman stretched the advantage to 19-17 before Abilene sophomore Jenna Hayes started a Cowgirl rally with a point on serve. The Cowgirls evened the score at 21-21 on a block point from Fitzgeralds and Wildman. Clemence followed with an ace at the serve line, Wildman slammed a kill and Clemence then served out the win for the Cowgirls 25-21.

In the second set, Chapman got the early lead at 4-0 and after kills from Hayes and Ditto, the Cowgirls trailed by two at 8-6. Kirkpatrick and Cavanaugh powered shots for the Irish and they regained a two-point advantage at 10-8.

Two kills from Lewis and a shot from Kirkpatrick and the Irish had its biggest lead at 16-10. Sprinkle lead the Cowgirls on the attack with a slam followed by kills from Clemence and Hayes and the Cowgirls were within three at 13-16.

Ditto registered a point for the Cowgirls, followed by Wildman and an ace from Hayes and the Cowgirls had cut into the Irish lead 19-20. Wildman’s kill made it 20-21 and then back-to-back kills by Fitzgeralds gave the Cowgirls the lead at 22-21. Abilene got a couple of side out scores and finally Fitzgeralds slammed home an Abilene win at 25-21.

“Our diggers did a great job tonight on the back row and our hitters are doing a better job of keeping the ball in play,” Koch said. “In our close losses we are having more hitting errors than we are kills and so we have really been working on being more consistent with our hits, keeping the ball in play. When we keep the ball in play good things happen. The girls are talking to each other, they are finding holes and they are putting up blocks. We don’t hit the hardest, we are not a hard hitting team, but we are smart.”

The Cowgirls improve to 2-2 in NCKL play and will face Clay Center in Abilene on Tuesday. Chapman is also 2-2 in the conference as they have league wins over Marysville. The Irish travel to Silver Lake for tournament play this Saturday.

Contact Ron Preston at

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