It’s been since 2010 that Nixa has been able to add to its District championship banner. Not coincidentally, it’s been since 2008 that Ozark hasn’t won a District title.
The Lady Eagles and everyone else in the COC for that matter have been chasing mighty Ozark for a decade.
Suddenly, the momentum has switched sides.
Willard, fresh from reaching State last year by beating Ozark at Sectionals and Nixa, fresh from a 22-win season, are generally named the COC favorites by those in the know this year. Ozark won 28 matches last season, but lost its entire starting lineup to graduation.
Nixa’s senior trio of outside hitter Kenzie Hines, middle hitter Jordan Collard and defensive specialist Lexie Gregory are enjoying the role reversal.
“It’s exciting and a new experience for all of us,” Gregory said. “Everybody has always seen Ozark as the big school. This year it’s our year for people to look up to us and have them say, ‘We’re finally playing Nixa, this is going to be such a good game.’ I’m really happy we’re there. I’ve never been scared to have the target on my back. You have to rise to the occasion.”
“It’s a good opportunity for us to show people how we play, instead of the focus being on another team,” Collard said. “It’s exciting to be that team because we know we can go pretty far.”
“It’s exciting to be chased,” Hines added.
Of course, the Lady Eagles are quick to remind themselves they haven’t won anything, yet. Actually, they did win a matchup against Ozark over the summer.
Things get real Sept. 5 at home versus Glendale. Nixa will try to end its eight-match losing streak against Ozark at home Oct. 1.
Coach Annie Zimmerman admittedly is having a hard time getting used to being in the favorite’s role.
“I think honestly in our minds we’re still chasing,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t feel like we’re being chased, yet. There’s still a lot we haven’t accomplished up to this point. Whatever perceptions teams have of us may be different than what we have of ourselves because we haven’t achieved a District title or outright conference championship.”
Nixa gained plenty of respect last season as a scrappy and ultra-resilient bunch that twice took Ozark to three matches. The Lady Eagles beat a 32-win Willard team and twice swept Kickapoo.
They promise to guard against complacency rearing its ugly head and are adamant they will remain as hungry as ever.
“It all comes down to the effort we put in at practices and having the mentality that no ball is dead until it hits the floor,” Hines said. “Every ball is an opportunity to get a point. It’s fun to play with that type of energy. That’s the energy that wins you games.”
“We’re extremely motivated,” Collard said. “This is what we’ve been talking about all summer.”
“The thing I like the most about the group as a whole is their vision is consistent,” Zimmerman said. “They all have the same direction and same end-goal and they’re on the same page with each other. They know they’re going to have to continue to have that mindset in order to get the titles they want.”