Two points separated the Francis Howell girls’ volleyball team from winning its first state championship on Oct. 29.
A measly two points.
Howell ended up losing a heartbreaking 25-20, 25-27, 21-25 decision to six-time champion Lafayette in the Class 4 championship game at the Show-Me-Center on the Southeast Misssouri State campus in Cape Girardeau but the loss did not dampen the spirits of the Vikings spikers.
Howell senior outside hitter Mikayla Hardy said the championship game loss was bittersweet because it marked the end of the season.
“Honestly, I think it was just knowing that the season was over with such a great group of girls and just knowing it was over at that point even though we hadn’t won, that was the worst part,” Hardy said.
The Vikings went 3-1 in pool play against Ozark, St. Theresa’s and Lafayette on Oct. 28 to advance to their first championship game against Lafayette.
A five-point first set win for the Vikings gave way to Howell surging to a 23-20 lead in the second set.
But Howell’s offense stalled late in the second set and the Lancers reeled off a 4-0 run to take the second set. Lafayette then got rolling in the third set and did not let up.
“I think at the end of the match, Lafayette’s experience kind of took over and we started getting a little conservative and trying to kind of play not to lose instead of playing to win,” Howell coach Stacey Smith said. “They kept swinging and we kept tipping, trying to find a hole and it didn’t quite work out.”
Hardy powered the Vikings scoring with a team-high 18 kills. Emma Witter added 14 kills and senior setter Kennedy Cordia finished the final match of her Vikings career with 39 assists and 11 points.
Beyond the on court success, Smith, who just finished his first season as Vikings head coach this season said this season would always be special due to the unique chemistry this club had from day one of the season on and off the court.
“It was an amazing year and so many great memories to choose from,” Smith said. “I think just how fun this group was and their desire to win is second to none and it was just an amazing year.”
Howell went 36-3-2 for a school record in wins this fall. Also, the Vikings in their third trip to state overall, won their first match in pool play at state and made it to its first state championship match.
It was a special season of firsts that few expected at the outset and one that again made Howell an elite program that bears watching closely in the near future.
“Honestly, I don’t think any of us really thought we would get that far,” Hardy said of going to state. “The fact that we did is just kind of like a dream that we didn’t think was going to happen but when it finally started to come together, everybody started to realize this is real. Just the fact that we got there was amazing for everybody.”