After more than a month of road trips without a single home match, the College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcat Volleyball team returned home for Senior Night and their final match of the regular season. In front of a packed student section, the Lady Cats were set to square off against the Golden Eagles (20-6) of John Brown University. The Lady Cats (18-13) were looking to avenge an earlier loss in Siloam Springs and knew they would have their hands full.
John Brown jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first three points of the opening set. A pair of JBU errors and a Bri Linehan service ace cut the gap and the Lady Cats trailed 5-3 in the early going. JBU continued to apply pressure but kills by Brooklyn Crawford kept the Lady Cats in contention. Slowly the Golden Eagles began to build momentum and increased the gap for the Lady Cats to close. While the Lady Cats battled to keep pace, the Golden Eagles slowly pulled away and held a 16-8 advantage. C of O was unable to close the gap until late in the set when kills by Bailey Chamberlain, Kiley Counts, and Crawford cut the deficit to 22-16. The Lady Cats would get no closer as JBU finished the set on a 3-0 run and took set one, 25-16.
The Lady Cats came out in attack mode in set two and quickly took a 3-0 advantage behind a Grace Hancock kill and a Morgan Austin service ace. JBU bounced right back however and scored the next three points to even the score. Grace Hancock and Bri Linehan answered with kills to regain the lead and the tug of war was on. Kills by Linehan and Bailey Chamberlain expanded the lead to 8-4 but JBU would not go away. The teams traded points as the Lady Cats battled to hold off the Golden Eagle challenges. A 4-0 JBU run closed the gap and the score was tied, 10-10. The Golden Eagles scored the next point to take their first lead of the set, but a service error knotted the score again. Back and forth the score would go as neither team wanted to give in. The Golden Eagles then grabbed the momentum and scored three unanswered points to take a 15-12 lead. The Lady Cats continued to battle, and it was now up to JBU to answer the challenges. A kill by Bri Linehan, a service ace by Micah Chadwell, and a pair of JBU errors put the Lady Cats back on top and the Golden Eagles took a timeout, trailing the Lady Cats 18-16. The Golden Eagles took the first point out of the huddle, but the Lady Cats responded with a Bri Linehan kill. JBU countered and the teams traded points to a 20-20 tie. A Grace Hancock kill broke the tie and a Bailey Chamberlain kill gave the Lady Cats the upper hand, 22-20. JBU called a timeout to try and break the C of O momentum. Another Chamberlain kill out of the huddle gave the Lady Cats a three-point advantage, but JBU came storming back. With the next two points going to JBU, the Lady Cats needed a timeout to stop the momentum. Grace Hancock greeted the Golden Eagles with a kill out of the huddle to bring up set point. JBU scored the next point, but a Bri Linehan kill sealed the win and the Lady Cats took set two, 25-23.
Set three picked up where the previous set left off. The two teams traded points before a Grace Hancock kill and a Morgan Austin service ace gave the Lady Cats a 3-1 lead. JBU bounced back to tie it, then took the lead on their way to a 3-0 run. An attack error evened the score, and another gave the Lady Cats the lead. The lead was short lived however, as JBU responded with another 3-0 run. A Brooklyn Crawford kill tied the score at 8-8 and another lead change occurred with a JBU error. The teams continued to trade points, but JBU maintained a slight advantage. Yet another 3-0 JBU run gave them a little breathing room, but the Lady Cats continued to battle. With JBU slowly pulling away and leading 19-15, Coach Muckenthaler took a timeout to regroup. Needing to rally, Brooklyn Crawford stepped up for a kill out of the huddle, but JBU answered with a kill of their own. Kills by Brooklyn Crawford and Grace Hancock cut the gap to 21-19 but JBU countered, and the score moved to 23-19. The Lady Cats took another timeout and the need for a rally was ever-present. Grace Hancock recorded the kill out of the huddle and Bri Linehan followed to bring the Lady Cats within two, 23-21. John Brown took a timeout then scored the final two points to take set three, 25-21.
Now in a do or die situation, the Lady Cats needed to bounce back in set four. Kills by Bri Linehan and Morgan Austin gave the Lady Cats the early 4-1 lead. The Golden Eagles quickly battled back but kills by Bri Linehan and Kiley Counts maintained the narrow advantage. Points would go back and forth, and the teams played to a 10-10 tie. JBU took their first lead 11-10 and tacked on another two points to go up 13-10, A Grace Hancock kill broke the string, but a service error gave the serve back to JBU. A Bailey Chamberlain and Grace Hancock block for a point returned the serve to the Lady Cats but they were unable to put together a run. JBU maintained their lead and slowly began to pull away. The Lady Cats needed to turn the tide and kills by Linehan and Counts helped close the gap. The Golden Eagles answered however, and the Lady Cats needed a timeout, trailing 18-14. Another Linehan kill out of the huddle cut the lead to 18-15 but JBU took the next point, and the needed run was evasive once again. Another 3-0 JBU run spelled trouble for the Lady Cats and the set began to slip away. Another 3-0 run put the Lady Cats on the ropes, 24-17 and a JBU kill finished the set, 25-17 and the match 3-1.
Bre Linehan led the offensive attack with 17 kills and Grace Hancock and Brooklyn Crawford tacked on 11 and eight respectively. Mica Chadwell was all over the floor and recorded 35 digs to lead the defensive effort. Kiley Counts added 15 digs and Morgan Austin contributed 12 to go with her 34 assists.
The Lady Cats will now have a long layoff as they prepare for the post-season and wait to see if a Regional Tournament is played. If not, their next action will be in the NCCAA Division I National Volleyball Championship Tournament, December 1-3. The Lady Cats will be hosting the tournament at Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of the College of the Ozarks.