The difference Thursday night as Class 4-A No. 3 Sergeant Bluff-Luton defeated Thomas Jefferson in a Missouri River Conference volleyball matchup was Kenzie Foley.
“They have Kenzie Foley,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bonnie Clinch said after her team’s loss to the Warriors. “That girl can hit a ball.”
Foley, a senior, finished with a game-high 16 kills, hammering home her share while knowing when to use touch to catch the defense off guard as the Warriors swept T.J. 25-14, 25-17 and 25-9.
“Our upperclassmen were great tonight; they really stepped up and played well,” Warrior coach Renee Winkel said. “That leadership helped tonight.”
After a back-and-forth start to the match, Sgt. Bluff-Luton took the first set with a run midway through, building a 15-9 lead they would grow from there. The Warriors attacked the middle of the Yellow Jacket defense to pick up a number of points in the frame.
T.J. hung around throughout the second set, cutting the lead to 20-17 on a kill by senior Ashlie Knecht, before Sgt. Bluff closed with a 5-0 run, capped by a Alley touch kill. Knecht led T.J. with six kills, followed by twin sister Alysyn’s five.
“We kept swinging aggressively,” Clinch said. (Ashlie Knecht) was the hitter we went to.”
The third set was a runaway for the Warriors, a combination of efficient offense combined with some early Jacket miscues.
“My varsity’s really young,” Winkel said, noting just four returning contributors. “When we come out with focus and discipline, we play really well.”
Clinch said despite the outcome she was proud of her team’s fight against the always-potent Warriors.
“That’s the best we’ve played Sgt. Bluff in a long time,” she said. “That’s a really good team. Our defense was moving, we passed well on serve-receive. I teach the mindset to play to win, not play to not lose. This team gets that. We swung hard. My girls didn’t play scared tonight.”
Senior Jenna Midkiff led the Yellow Jacket offense with 17 assists, while finishing with seven digs.
“She’s the steady constant on our team,” Clinch said. “She was determined to get digs tonight, get a hand on something to get a ball in the air. As setter she’s really good at running the team, getting the ball in the right spot.”
Junior Chloey Alley also had seven digs and junior Ellie Perrine had three blocks.
For the Warriors, sophomore Emma Salker followed Foley with nine kills and senior Elle Sneller had eight. Salker had four aces and Sneller had five blocks. Sophomore setters Madison Wilcoxon and Maddie Hinkel had 21 and 17 assists, respectively.
Sophomore Alivia Wolf and junior Mia Gamet led Sgt. Bluff-Luton with eight digs apiece.
The Jackets were coming off a 5-0 run and first-place finish at Saturday’s AHSTW tournament in Avoca. The loss drops them to 6-4. Sgt. Bluff-Luton moves to 4-0.
T.J. will have a week off before taking on city rival Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 12 on the road.
Sgt. Bluff-Luton (4-0, 1-0) 25 25 25
Thomas Jefferson (6-4, 0-1) 14 17 9
SBL: Kills: Alley 16, Salker 9, Sneller 8. Assists: Wilcoxon 21, Hinkel 17. Aces: Salker 4. Digs: Wolf 8, Gammet 8. Blocks: Sneller 5.
TJ: Kills: Ashlie Knecht 6, Alysyn Knecht 5. Assists: Midkiff 17. Digs: Midkiff 7. Aces: Ashlie Knecth 2. Blocks: Perrine 3.