Prairiland v Chisum

Prairiland beat Chisum in five thrilling sets to finish district play undefeated. Pictured, Lady Patriots Ryleigh Sims, left, and Kyndal Yaross leap to block an attack by Chisum’s Brooklyn Atnip.

PATTONVILLE — Sparks are sure to fly whenever the Prairiland Lady Patriots and Chisum Lady Mustangs meet on the volleyball court, and Tuesday was certainly no different. The teams gave each other all they could handle, but in the end it was the Lady Patriots who edged out their cross-county rivals in a five-set showdown for the ages, winning 17-25, 25-19, 25-15, 22-25, 17-15.

The Lady Patriots had already secured sole possession of the district championship a week prior, but with the win in the regular season finale, the team wrapped up an unblemished run through all district opponents, finishing with a perfect 12-0 record.

“I think these girls proved a lot of people wrong this year,” Prairiland head coach Emily Vanderburg said. “I think there were a lot of people going in that thought we weren’t going to be as good as we were (last year). And we did start kind of slow, but they’ve worked really hard and we’re peaking at the right time. It just speaks to the great work ethic they’ve got and their ability to play together.”

And though it was Prairiland that capped off a perfect run through district play, it was Chisum that came out of the gate stronger and drew first blood.

Bolstered by strong play at the net from middle blockers Emmy Williams and Emma Garner, the Lady Mustangs were able to find holes in Prairiland’s rotations, scoring big kills to open areas on the court.

“Our passing was on point in that first set; we were able to get our passes to target and run our offense,” Chisum head coach Laura Nickerson said. “That kept them out of system and kept them from getting that perfect pass from their setters.

“Emmy and Emma did a good job, and they’ve been big for me all year, carrying the weight of the offense.”

The two teams started neck-and-neck, trading points early, and when a Prairiland shot sailed wide a few points into the match, the two teams found themselves tied 9-9. It was the last time the two teams would be tied, as Chisum began to pull away shortly thereafter.

Back-to-back highlights by Williams in which she had a thunderous kill and a big block in quick succession helped push Chisum’s lead to 13-9.

Williams would record two more blocks before the end of the set, as the Lady Mustangs pulled away from their opponents.

“I think we underestimated them a little bit and just how much they wanted it,” Lady Pat Ali Sessums said. “Obviously it’s Prairiland-Chisum, and everyone gets hyped for it, but they came out with a lot of intensity.”

In the second set, the Lady Patriots raised their intensity to match that of their opponents, and following big kills by Sessums and fellow Lady Patriot Abi Farmer, Prairiland had built up a 6-1 lead and forced Chisum to burn a timeout to right the ship.

Playing in their final game on their home court, Sessums and Farmer certainly made the most of their senior night. Sessums led her team with 19 kills, and defensively shone as well, making several impressive digs and hustle plays to keep rallies alive. Farmer, for her part, was huge at the net, racking up 16 kills of her own and also adding five blocks in the effort.

Chisum dug their heels in and mounted a comeback, briefly retaking the lead at 15-14 on a big kill by hitter Peyton Holland, but the Lady Patriots answered right back, closing out the set with a nice run, punctuated by strong play at the net from freshman Ryleigh Sims and and more offensive firepower from Sessums.

During the second set, Farmer gave the Patriot faithful a moment of panic when she came off the court gripping her hand in pain after a play at the net, returning with the hand bandaged up.

“I blocked someone, and my hand was so over that my thumb popped back,” Farmer said. “It hurt but I just got it wrapped up and got back out there because I knew that my team needed me.”

“Abi messed her thumb up a bit but she was still able to go out there and get a ton of blocks,” Vanderburg said. “She might’ve had to slow it down on the hitting end but she definitely was able to still get touches on the ball and find ways to help her team. That’s the kind of player she is.”

Early in the third set, Sessums and Farmer connected on what may have been the most impressive play of the match. Sessums was able to dig the ball out of the net while falling backwards, getting the ball up, eventually leading to a spike by Farmer.

Prairiland carried its momentum from the second set forward, and built up a double-digit 14-4 lead in seemingly no time in the third.

Later in the set, Sessums would again wow with her defensive efforts, fully laying out for a diving dig that saw her tumble in front of the energized and raucous visiting Chisum student section. The dive was ultimately for naught, however, as Garner would eventually put the ball in the back corner of the court for a Chisum point, pulling the score to 18-10 in Prairiland’s favor.

The fourth set started much like the second, with the two teams trading blows. However, where the second set saw one team eventually pull away, they stayed even practically throughout the entire set.

The biggest lead of the set came when an ace by Lady Mustang Kelsea Ball put her team up by five, at 21-16. However, a run by Prairiland quickly closed Chisum’s lead to 23-22, with Sessums having some more strong attacks and Chloe Raley recording a powerful kill down the sideline to help narrow the gap.

The Mustangs were ultimately able to close out the dramatic set strong, sending the game to a decisive fifth set.

“I think it says a lot that they were able to come back and win that set like that after almost not even scoring 10 in the set before it,” Nickerson said. “Our girls have a ton of resilience and they never stop fighting.”

The fifth set was as dramatic as could be. From start to finish, the two teams traded kills. Williams, Garner, Holland and Brooklyn Atnip all found big kills for Chisum; while Sessums, Farmer, Raley and Sims responded in kind for their team.

“In really close sets like that, with that kind of pressure, you’ve just got to block out the noise and the distractions,” Farmer said.

“We really tune out the entire stands and only focus on each other,” Sessums agreed. “I think that really helps our team in these sorts of situations.”

Chisum was briefly able to stretch its lead to four points when Sims broke the plane while attempting to block a Chisum attack, but they closed that gap in short order afterwards.

Prariland had its first match point at 14-13, though Williams was able to extend the game with a well-placed drop shot. The Lady Pats’ second match point came at 16-15 when Sessums found a stellar kill by threading the needle to get the ball through a cadre of Lady Mustangs, and Sims finished the match off with a resounding block.

With the loss, the Lady Mustangs now find themselves in a three-way tie for second place with Edgewood and Rains.

The three teams will meet Thursday at Commerce High School for a round robin, with the seeding of the final three playoff spots in the balance.

“We’re going to have to flip for A, B and C, and A will get the bye and B and C will play,” Nickerson explained. “The winner will play A and if A were to lose that game then would get it, and then A and B would have to play for third and fourth.”

For the Lady Patriots, though, the win was the perfect bookend to a perfect district season, and all that’s left is to see who they’ll face in their playoff opener.

“It feels amazing,” Sessums said of winning her final home game in such dramatic fashion. “It’s a great feeling to finish 12-0, which is the sort of streak you just don’t see very often, and it’s even better since it’s against Chisum.”

Tommy Culkin is sports editor for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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