By Greg Price
Barnwell Lady Trojans battled the elements just as much as the competition at 2J South Zone Volleyball championships in Burdett on the way to a zone banner.
The eight-team draw dwindled down to six and then to five as it was Mother Nature, and not the competition, who eliminated teams from the chase for the banner before the tournament even began.
The weather may have been cold outside, but the Lady Trojans were heating up with its play, coming into the zone championship seeding second, and fresh off the heels of a Horizon division championship.
“I was worried that the tournament would be canceled altogether,” said Barnwell School’s athletic director Aaron Edlund. “There were three different draws made for the tournament. It would have been a shame if zones were a no go.”
But a go they were as it was destined that Barnwell would face arch-nemesis and number-one seed St. Joe’s Jaguars from Coaldale in the championship final. Both teams made quick work of its competition leading up to the championship, dropping only one set each on its way to the final.
The Jaguars had the Lady Trojans number all season long leading up to the zone championship, having played each other numerous times during the tournament season, with St. Joe’s being victorious each time.
Nevertheless, a championship 2J zone final made for huge and exciting swings in momentum with the Trojans gaining the upper hand in the first set in the best of three. Avery Anderson provided plenty of fireworks offensively in the middle, aided by the crisp setting by Beth Nelson to help the Lady Trojans earn a 25-18 victory to draw first blood.
“St. Joe’s is a fantastic team. They have some great servers and obviously have several club players on their team. However, they aren’t as big as us,” said Trojan coach Scott Nelson, “With Beth setting well and Avery active in the middle, we are tough to beat.”
But, momentum swings all the time in sports and the 2J zone final was no different as the Lady Trojans had to scrap to achieve its first zone banner since 2012.
Behind some incredible serving, St. Joe’s evened the sets at one apiece by winning the second set easily 25-8.
Things looked dire for the Lady Trojans as the team quickly fell behind 9-0 in a set that only goes to 15 to decide the victor, as the Trojans had to walk a tight rope with very few points left to give away in its margin of error.
“I was really close to heading out to the parking lot to warm up the van,” said Edlund who was in attendance, watching his daughter.
The Trojans were finally able to counter the Jaguars’ strong serving off the hot hands of Judy Wolf, Elisa Rios and Nelson who for every one point St. Joe’s was able to muster, Barnwell was able to triple or quadruple it to bring the Lady Trojans back to life.
Grade 7 Olivia Edlund stepped in and was able to bring Barnwell to within a 13-11 score. A carry call had the Lady Trojans on the brink with a 14-11 deficit, but a missed serve queued the comeback.
Up stepped Barnwell’s ace in the hole in Abby Wood who kept the Jaguars off balance the rest of the way with her dominant serving.
“There was nobody I’d rather see with the ball than Abby,” said Edlund. “Abby is our best player and I felt great having the game in the hands of our star.”
Two quick ace serves by Wood tied the game at 14 and a nice play at the net by Anderson put the Trojans up by one. With her third ace in four serves, the Trojans were euphoric as Wood’s final serve shanked off of a St. Joe’s passer out of bounds.
“I’ve seen a lot of volleyball in my time, but I’ve never seen a 9-0 comeback in the third set ever before,” said Edlund. “I am extremely proud of our girls. They have worked really hard.”