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Howell Central volleyball breaks through for first state tournament berth

The Francis Howell Central volleyball celebrates its first state tournament berth in school history on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Francis Howell Central High School. [Cindy Sitarski photo]

It was a feeling that closely resembled a combination of an out of body experience mixed with shock and relief for Francis Howell Central volleyball player Kayla Steinmeyer and her Spartans teammates.

On Saturday (Nov. 5),  at Howell Central, Steinmeyer and the Spartans clinched the first state tournament berth school history thanks to victories over archrival Francis Howell, and Columbia Hickman.

Winning the Class 4A quarterfinal at home with the Central student body celebrating, was a one of a kind experience that Steinmeyer and Spartans will long relish.

“It was probably the coolest experience I’ve ever and I think as a team it was pretty cool as well,” Steinmeyer said. “It’s starting to get there (that we are going to state). I’m still in shock.”

The Spartans began their playoff run by knocking off Westminster and Pattonville in three sets each to win the Class 4, District 6 tournament at Parkway Central on Oct. 30.

On Nov. 2, the Spartans knocked off rival Francis Howell [25-16, 25-17] in the sectional round and then beat Hickman [25-12, 25-23] in the quarterfinals, to claim their first state tournament berth in program history.

Steinmeyer, a senior outside hitter, said that getting past Howell was the toughest part of the day for the team.

“I would say Howell for sure (was the tougher match) because there’s always that mental aspect that they are our rivals and that it was more of a game we wanted to win,” Steinmeyer said. Not that Hickman wasn’t a game we wanted to win but it was more of a challenge for us I would say.”

The Spartans have been carried during the 2019 season and postseason by senior setter Emily Mundle, Junior middle blocker Pearson, Steinmeyer, and senior outside hitter Olivia Green.

Steinmeyer and Green have been major headaches for opposing teams around the net, averaging 4.4 and 2.9 kills a game respectively.

“Kayla is more of a power hitter and Olivia is more of a finesse player, so it’s a good combination,” Howell Central interim coach Steven Le said.

Le, who coaches the boys’ team, was pressed into service this season when head coach Jennifer Gronek went on maternity leave at the start of the school year.

Le has enjoyed his role in helping the Spartans get to the Class 4 tournament this fall.

He credits head coach Jennifer Gronek with helping prep the team for big this year.

“It feels amazing (to make it to state), Le said. “I’m an interim coach and the head coach had twins and I’m just taking over the program for one year.  Her first season was last year and she did a fantastic job laying down the groundwork for us to be successful this year.”

On Friday, the Spartans will begin pool play in the state tournament at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau against Nixa, Liberty, and Lafayette.

Le feels that the Spartans will need to pass and serve well to have a chance to play for the championship on Saturday. “Really, I feel that like almost all of these games are based on if we pass well and if we serve well and that’s really the start,” Le said.

There will be a big sendoff at the school for the team after 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.

The goals for Howell Central this weekend are rather simple. Get as much out of the tournament as possible and enjoy the experience.

“Everyone out there is a good team and it’s going to be tough matches with everybody but our ultimate goal is to have some fun since it’s the first time we’ve done it ever in program history,” Steinmeyer said.  “So we’re going down there to make some memories.”








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