BRANSON — Nixa seniors the likes of libero Emma Conrad, middle hitter Hillary Estes and outside hitter Norah Clark have kept the Lady Eagles atop the COC for a third straight season.
Nixa completed a sweep of its COC foes for a second straight year by rolling past Branson 25-11, 25-13, 25-16 Tuesday.
The Lady Eagles (27-7 overall and 9-0 in COC) won 27 of 30 sets against their conference opponents.
All this from a bunch that started out this season with just one returning starter from last season’s team that included a pair of all-staters and three NCAA D-I signees.
"It gives us all a sense of pride. It’s been special to make a name for ourselves,” Conrad said.
“I think they felt like as a group they had a lot to prove,” Zimmerman said. “They felt like people were thinking that this isn’t going to be the same Nixa team that we’ve had the past few years. People were expecting something different. This group had a chip on their shoulders. They’ve worked hard to say they’ve been successful as well.”
Zimmerman’s program has won 26 straight COC matches dating back to a loss at Willard in 2020. Nixa shared the COC title with Willard that year.
The Lady Eagles won this season’s title by two matches, as Webb City and Republic both finished 7-2 in the COC and fourth-place Ozark was 6-3.
“We are stacked with very talented teams in our conference. To be able to win (the championship) and win it outright is a really big deal,” Zimmerman said. “It’s something we have done twice since I’ve been here (nine years).
“We try to be as consistent as we can,” she added. “Every single year we’re going to lose a group of seniors and hopefully we’re preparing our younger players to be able to step into those roles as they get older.”
Nixa’s win against Branson saw Chloe Judd collect three blocks and nine kills, Clark contribute 10 kills, Estes nine kills, Jacy Bray 26 assists, Amelia White two aces and Conrad 18 digs.
Conrad has been pleased how she and her teammates responded to strong challenges from Ozark and Webb City. The Lady Tigers beat Nixa 2-0 at the Springfield Tournament and took Nixa to five sets in their COC matchup. The Lady Cardinals won one set against the Lady Eagles.
“Every teammate is ready to do what they need to do and play under pressure,” Conrad said. “Everyone has the confidence they need to get the job done. It shows how much grit our team has. We’re willing to put everything into every single game.”
Zimmerman feels Nixa learned in its rematch with Ozark improvements that needed to be made defensively.
“It showed us some of our weaknesses we have to continue to work on,” Zimmerman said.
“Our defense has been all-around better,” Conrad said. “We glued the pieces we needed to get together.”
Nixa opens Class 5 District 6 play at Republic as the No. 1 seed ahead of No. 2 Kickapoo (28-6), No. 3 Ozark (22-11-2) and No. 4 Republic (25-9).
First-round matches are Saturday, with the semifinal set for Monday and the final on tap for Tuesday.
“The girls have this conference championship and now they’re hungry to keep going,” Zimmerman said. “There are a lot of good teams in our District. I don’t think any team is taking anyone for granted. You’re going to have to come with your best every single night to be successful. As Districts start this weekend and go into next week, it’s the most fun time of the year.”