Shaking off the disappointment of not being a District host, Ozark coach Adeanna Brewer is hoping her Lady Tigers’ success on neutral courts carries over to the post-season.
Ozark (28-5) is the No. 2 seed for Class 5 District 6 and will meet No. 3 seed Nixa (28-6) in a 6:30 p.m. semifinal Monday at Waynesville, of all places.
Ozark is 12-2 at neutral settings.
“We were kind of bummed we don't get to host the District. We made a bid for it. It came down to a coin flip,” Brewer said. “But we do play very well in neutral gyms, like the Crossroads Classic. We hope that plays into our favor. That's going to be our mindset going in.”
Ozark traveled to Effingham, Illinois, to win the Crossroads Classic at the beginning of September. Brewer’s bunch ended the month by sweeping Nixa in the teams' COC match.
From the Lady Eagles' perspective, they will be looking for redemption and revenge in lieu of their 25-22, 25-14, 25-19 home loss to Ozark.
“The girls were very disappointed in our performance and Ozark had a lot to do with that,” Nixa coach Annie Zimmerman said. “All credit to Ozark that night. They made us play that way. They had a great game plan and executed it very well. We didn't respond as well as I would have liked. The girls feel like they have a lot to prove. We know we are a better team than what we showed that night.
“I expect it to be a battle from start to finish,” she added. “We know we are going to have to fight for everything we get. It's not going to be easy. We have to be mentally tough and prepared.”
Ozark's attack is led by Reagan Baade. She has 310 kills and is averaging 3.7 kills a set. Tara Venable, Skylar Hilton and Ashya Thompson also all have 172 kills or more.
Defensively, Hilton has a team-high 63 blocks, while Thompson has 41 and Venable 39.
Nixa's attack is led by Chloe Judd and Ava Owens, who both average 2.6 kills a set. Owens has a 49.1 kill percentage and Judd 46.9.
Defensively, Owens and Judd have combined for 110 blocks.
Both Brewer and Zimmerman point to their team's serve-receive as critical to their District title chances. Ozark hasn't won a District championship since 2018 and Nixa last won a District title since 2021.
Macy Humble leads Ozark with an average of 11.8 returns a match and Baade is averaging 11. Humble has 349 digs and Baade 248.
Paige Pearcy tops Nixa with an average of 16.8 returns a match, while Amelia White's norms is 12.9. Pearcy has 482 digs and White 319.
“When you are passing well, you have all of your offensive options,” Brewer said. “You can go to any of your hitters because you are in your system. When you're out of system, you depend on outsides and right-sides to get the kills and that takes the middles out of the offense a little. That becomes predictable and it's easier for teams to block or play defense.
“Our serve-receive was inconsistent at the beginning of the season,” she added. “It has progressively gotten better. We have put a lot of emphasis and a lot of work toward making it more consistent. Compared to the beginning of the year, we are much more consistent.”
“Serve and pass is going to very important for all teams,” Zimmerman said. “We know how important it is going to be for us to be able to run the offense we want to run. There have been some highs and some lows for us. That happens during the course of a season. I feel very good about where our serve-receive is right now. I think we have worked through a few issues we were having during the mid- to second-half of the season. The passers are much more confident in what they are doing now and hopefully that translates.”
No. 1 seed Kickapoo (31-4) meets No. 4 seed Republic (24-5-1) in the other semifinal. The Lady Chiefs swept Ozark and lost in five sets to Nixa.
The final will be played at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“All three teams are obviously very good,” Zimmerman said of Kickapoo, Oxark and Nixa. “It is going to be about who can play at a high level most consistently.”
“We're going to have to play two consecutive days of high-level volleyball,” Brewer said.