A match away from winning its first district title since 2009, the Lady Hound volleyball team was forced to settle with the difficult reality of being runner-ups in Class 3 District 16 once again.
The host and top-seeded Lady Hounds lost an intense district final match to second-seeded Savannah 21-25, 21-25 Wednesday at the high school, bringing a bitter end to their season at 23-7-2.
Maryville accepted the runner-up trophy for the second straight year and has now gone three straight since moving up to Class 3 in 2010 without winning the district despite being a one or two-seed each time.
Meanwhile, Savannah (17-10-4) claimed the title for the first time since 1996 and advanced to play District 15 champion St. Pius X in sectionals Saturday.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," said Maryville head coach Lori Klaus. "I think Savannah played well, so you got to hand it to them for coming out and playing a good game. I think we played hard. I just don't think we took care of the ball every point and stayed focused the whole game."
Maryville had won every preceding match against its five other district opponents, including a 25-15, 25-18 sweep of Savannah on Sept. 27 at home.
The Savages, though, had players missing that night because of illness and others who were playing through it.
With her team back at full strength and playing well as of late, Savannah coach Deb Couldry could sense a different outcome was in store.
"I had all the faith in the world the girls would come in and play well," said Couldry. "We've been playing better. We changed a few things around on defense. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, but it worked out pretty well. I knew Maryville probably remembered they had beaten us and beat us pretty easily. I kind of thought we had the momentum on our side because they were probably more confident than they should have been."
One of the Savage players who was less than 100 percent last time—senior outside hitter Emma Peterson—gave Savannah a huge lift offensively with a match-high nine kills along with three aces.
"To me, she's their best player" said Klaus. "She is a really good hitter. She made a big difference tonight."
Maryville's two outsides Sara Knowles and Aubrey Kimble produced eight kills a piece. Rightside Chelsea Byland added four along with 11 digs, second to Jessa Stiens' team-high total of 14.
As a team, the Hounds totaled 23 kills but hit just .053 and had errors at critical junctures of the match.
"Quite a few unforced errors," said Klaus. "We had like three hits in a row out of bounds in that first game. That just hands them the momentum."
Page 2 of 3 - Maryville, which beat Benton in the semifinals, traded jabs with Savannah throughout much of the first set.
Within the first 30 points, there were seven ties and the largest lead either way was three points.
Trailing 15-12, the Savages made their move with a run of five straight points to go up 17-15.
Following a Maryville timeout, the Hounds clawed their way back to a 19-19 tie with back-to-back aces from Knowles.
Savannah stopped Maryville's three-point run with a tip kill by Taylor Thompson, and back-to-back hitting errors by Kimble put the Hounds in another three-point hole at 22-19.
Maryville called another timeout, but the Savages got a kill from Ava Peterson on the ensuing point to go up 23-19.
The Savages killed an overpass by the Hounds two points later to set up game point.
At 24-21, Savannah's Emma Peterson closed out the game with a kill off the block and through the back of Maryville's defense.
Savannah put Maryville in another hole to begin the second game, with a run of six straight points to lead 6-1. Maryville recovered briefly with with a four-point run, but the Savages ran off four of their own—the last three on attack errors by the Hounds to go up 10-5. This led to a Maryville timeout.
"I think we just came out way too slow in the second game," said Klaus. "I think they ended with the momentum in the first game and just took it into the second one. We definitely fought back after the timeout, but when you start out in that big of hole, it's hard to overcome."
Savannah's lead went up to six points on an ace by Emma Peterson when the Hounds reversed course.
Maryville scored the next seven points, including six with Byland on the service line, to take a 13-12 lead.
It would end up being Maryville's only lead of the game.
An error by the Hounds on the next point stopped their run and pulled the Savages back even.
The two teams continued to trade points, leading to ties at 14, 15 and 16.
Savannah took the lead for good on an attack error by Kimble at 17-16. After a back-row kill by Jessa Stiens created another one-point gap, the Hounds committed their first and only service error of the match and then an attack error, extending Savannah's lead to 20-17.
Out of a timeout, the Savages made their only service error of the match, but won the next three points on separate kills from Ava Peterson and Marnie Castle and an ace from Emma Peterson to make it 23-18.
Page 3 of 3 - Maryville's stopped Savannah's run with an emphatic kill from Knowles, but an Ava Peterson kill on the next point put the Hounds on the verge of extinction.
The Hounds stayed alive on the next two points, first with a kill from Knowles that just caught the back line and then a kill from Kimble.
With Savannah's lead down to 24-21, middle Carly Cox ended the match with a block of a quick attack from Anny Van de Ven.
"We knew Savannah would be tough," said Klaus. "I don't think they looked past Savannah. They knew it would be a tough game. They just let the nerves get the best of them tonight, I think."
All the Lady Hounds can do now is look forward.
Maryville loses three-year starting libero Jessa Stiens, two-year starting setter Alyssa Stiens and three-varsity hitter Knowles.
Junior starters Kimble, Van de Ven, Byland, Gabby Church and back row contributor Lindsey Suchan are set to return.
"A lot of those girls in that locker room were juniors, so they're going to remember how this felt and just let that be their fire for next year," said Klaus. "We're losing three very big roles, but it's only three, and I think the other nine girls on the team are ready to go for next year."