The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcat volleyball team played host to the NCCAA Central Region Tournament Thursday at Keeter Gymnasium. The tournament featured three teams, with an automatic National Tournament bid on the line. Mid-America Christian University came in with the top seed and drew a bye to advance to the Regional Championship. The Warriors of Sterling College qualified as the number two seed and College of the Ozarks was the three seed to round out the field. The Lady Cats and the Warriors opened play at 4:00 with the winner moving on to face MACU for the Regional Championship.
The Lady Cats also recognized senior Ryley Thixton prior to the match for her contributions to the College of the Ozarks Volleyball program over her career. Ryley is an outside hitter from Ozark, Missouri and is the daughter of Chris and Libby Thixton. She has been a 4-year starter for the Lady Cats. During her time as a Lady Bobcat, Ryley has been an NCCAA Player of the Week numerous times, as well as an NCCAA All-American. Ryley is painted throughout the record books and tied the single game Kills record with 31 in a game in 2020. She has been an integral part of Bobcat Volleyball during her career. Ryley will graduate in December with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics.
C of O vs Sterling College
After a long gap in the schedule, the Lady Cats had some rust to shake off in the early going of the match. Sterling came in ready to play and jumped out to an early 8-1 advantage, forcing a Lady Cat timeout. The Lady Cats desperately needed to regroup and stop the Warrior momentum. The Lady Cats turned up the defense and combined it with kills by Abi Menzies and Ryley Thixton to begin chipping away at the lead. With Sterling holding a 13-9 lead, A Brooklyn Crawford block at the net found the floor on the Warrior side and the deficit was cut to 13-10, The Warriors answered the challenge and scored the next two points. A Morgan Austin kill broke the serve and the teams began trading points. Sterling continued to hold a four-point advantage until three straight points built an 18-12 Warrior lead. The Lady Cats needed to answer as the end of the set was creeping up. Unable to string together points, the Lady Bobcats found themselves in a 21-14 hole. Another Lady Cat timeout was necessary to try and change the tide. A Ryley Thixton kill out of the huddle inched the Lady Cats closer, but the Warrior momentum was too strong, and the Lady Cats fell in set one 25-15.
Set two started with a Bailey Chamberlain kill and an early lead for the Lady Cats. C of O needed to control the momentum in this set to avoid going down 0-2. The teams traded points in the early going with neither team able to start a run. The Lady Cats continued to maintain a narrow advantage, leading 8-7 early on. An Abi Menzies kill built a 9-7 lead, but the Warriors continued to answer. After a Lady Cat error tied the score at nine, a Thixton kill and block for a for another point put the Lady Cats up 11-9. Back and forth action would continue as neither team could build a gap and the Lady Cats took a timeout holding a slim lead, 14-13. An Abi Menzies kill out of the huddle expanded the lead to 15-13 and a Brooklyn Crawford kill gave them their largest advantage, 16-13. The Warriors continued to battle, and the tug of war showed no signs of change. Sterling responded and the score was soon tied at 18. A long rally ensued, and the Warriors took the point, and their first lead of the set. The Lady Cats answered with two quick points, but Sterling came right back at them. This set would clearly go down to the wire. The battle continued but kills by Ryley Thixton and Brooklyn Crawford finished off the set and the Lady Cats evened the count, 1-1 with a 25-22 win.
With a pair of Sterling errors, a service ace by Leatha Keller, and kills by Thixton and Chamberlain, the Lady Cats jumped out to a 5-0 lead in set three. A Warrior timeout was enough to break the string and Sterling was on the board. As quickly as the Lady Cats built their lead, Sterling came charging back. Five unanswered points tied the score before a Warrior error broke the serve. An Emily Peterson kill gave Sterling their first advantage and the pressure was now on the Lady Cats. Another tug of war was on with the Warriors holding the slim advantage. An Abi Menzies kill would get the Cats within one, 10-9, but Sterling continued to answer. A 4-0 Sterling run opened a 14-9 deficit for the Lady Cats and a timeout was needed to break the momentum. The Lady Cats managed a quick point out of the timeout, but Sterling continued to apply pressure. An Abi Menzies kill and a return error by Sterling cut the deficit to four, 16-12 but Sterling clearly held the momentum. The teams traded points until a Ryley Thixton kill sparked a run by the Lady Cats. A Warrior error followed by kills by Brooklyn Crawford and Kiley Counts evened the score and a long rally would follow. A Sterling error and another Crawford kill gave the Lady Cats their first lead since early in the set, 20-18, and forced a Warrior timeout. Sterling responded out of the timeout and evened the score with a C of O error and an Emily Peterson kill. A Warrior error flowed by a powerful Abi Menzies kill and a Brooklyn Crawford block, put the Lady Cats up 23-20. The stage was set, and the Lady Cats showed up to perform. A Warrior error and a Morgan Austin kill secured the Lady Cat win, 25-21, and gave them a 2-1 set advantage.
With the Warriors’ backs to the wall, the Lady Cats would need to maintain their intensity and determination if they hoped to end the match in four. The teams traded points to start the set but kills by Thixton, Counts, and Crawford were added to a pair of Mica Chadwell aces and the Lady Cats were propelled to an early 8-2 lead. Sterling took a timeout in hopes of breaking the focus of the Lady Cats. Seemingly ineffective, back to back aces and a Sterling error, out of the timeout, increased the lead to 11-2. Sterling broke the serve on the next play and the back and forth action ensued. Sterling slowly began to chip away at the lead and work their way back into contention. Seemingly trading two points for one, the Lady Cat lead began to shrink. Solid play by the visitors cut the deficit to 15 -10 at the midway point. The momentum had shifted, and the Lady Cats needed a timeout to try and slow the charging Warriors. The Warriors promptly added a pair of points before a Bailey Chamberlain kill would break the serve. The Bobcat lead was reduced to 16-14 and the battle was back on. The two for one trend continued but the Lady Cats maintained their slim lead. A Brooklyn Crawford kill extended the Lady Cat lead to 19-17 but Sterling answered with two straight points to tie the score. The tension mounted on a controversial call and the home crowd began to add to the intensity. The teams traded points until back to back Jordyn Jellison kills gave the Warriors their first lead. Abi Menzies answered with a kill and the pressure on the Warriors forced back to back errors. The Lady Cat lead was back to two, 23-21. An Abi Menzies service ace forced match point and a Bailey Chamberlain kill secured the set win 25-21, and the match win 3-1.
The Lady Cats were led by Ryley Thixton’s 16 kills. Abi Menzies and Brooklyn Crawford each added 12, and Bailey Chamberlain chipped in nine. Morgan Austin contributed 44 assists and Mica Chadwell paced the defense with 30 digs. Leatha Keller contributed 16 digs, Ryley Thixton added 14, and Morgan Austin tacked on 13.
C of O vs MACU
After the exciting win over Sterling College, the Lady Cats were set to face off against the talented number one seed, Mid-America Christian. The Evangels stepped up early to defend their top seed. The Lady Cats struggled to keep pace in the early going as MACU built a 13-6 lead. Two more points for the Evangels forced a Lady Cat timeout to regroup. The Evangels continued to apply pressure and added points in doing so. The Lady Cats could only manage to scatter points and soon found themselves in a 19-10 hole. An Abi Menzies kill gave the Lady Cats a glimmer of hope but the MACU attack kept the pressure on. A 4-1 run had the Lady Cats on the ropes in set one and another timeout was called. Back to back kills by Menzies and Crawford sparked a Lady Cat rally but MACU answered with a point to make their lead 24-13. The Lady Cats managed one more point before a receiving error put the Evangels over the top, 25-14 for the set one win.
The Lady Cats opened the second set strong with kills by Brooklyn Crawford, setting up an early 5-3 C of O lead. MACU would not be out done and quickly fought back to a 7-7 tie. Abi Menzies slammed home a kill to break the tie but the Central Region player of the year, Hanna Foecker, answered with a kill of her own. The Evangels strung together three straight points to lead 10-8 before an error broke the serve. The teams continued to trade points with the Lady cats fighting to keep the score close. Another MACU 5-1 run would increase the gap to five, 15-10, and the Lady Cats took a timeout. The Evangels scored out of the huddle, but another Brooklyn Crawford kill broke the serve and the Lady Cats needed a shift in momentum. Another powerful Menzies kill cut the gap back to five and a Morgan Austin service ace made it 17-13. The Lady Cats continued to trade points but could not seem to reduce the deficit. A Brooklyn Crawford ace was followed by a Bailey Chamberlain block for a point, and the Evangels lead was cut to two, 18-16. The Evangels called a timeout. A quick MACU point broke the Lady Cat string but a Chamberlain kill kept the gap at two. MACU answered with three unanswered points to lead 23-17 and the Lady Cats could feel the set slipping away. The Lady Cats battled but MACU took the set, 25-18.
The Lady Cats were in a tight spot, trailing 2-0 heading to set three. The Evangels continued to carry the momentum in the early going of the set. Trading two points for one, the Lady Cats were quickly down 7-3. The Lady Cats were able to keep pace with the Evangels over the next several points but could not find a way to string points together. The Evangels capitalized on a few Lady Cat errors and the deficit grew to 13-6, forcing a Lady Cat timeout. The timeout was to no avail as MACU continued to apply pressure to the Lady Cat effort. Points were scarce and the Evangels continued to take advantage. With the set getting out of hand and the Lady Cats trailing 22-8, they needed a rally. Two quick points provided a spark, but the Evangels quickly responded. With a Lady Cat error, the Evangels took set three, and the match, 3-0.
The Lady Cats were led by Brooklyn Crawford’s seven kills followed by Abi Menzies with six. Morgan Austin contributed 19 assists and Mica Chadwell led the defensive effort with 21 digs.
The Lady Cats will be back in action December 2-4 in the NCCAA DI Women’s Volleyball National Championship Tournament, hosted by the College of the Ozarks.