By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
A long winning streak has lifted Carl Junction to No. 5 in the Class 3 volleyball rankings released this week by the Missouri Volleyball Coaches Association.
Carl Junction, 18-4-3, travels to Monett for a Big 8 Conference match Thursday, then will compete in the Ozark Grand Slam tournament Saturday at Ozark.
Ozark, ranked No. 8 in Class 4, was the last team to beat Carl Junction when the two teams played on Sept. 20 at Ozark.
Since then, the defending Big 8 champion Bulldogs have won 10 of 11 matches — the exception was a tie against Branson — and captured the championship of the Dr. Jeffrey Knutzen C.J. Classic.
One of Carl Junction’s tournament victories came against Pierce City, which is ranked No. 6 in Class 1.
Carl Junction’s offensive attack is spread among a front line of Maria Chism, a 5-foot-11 freshman; Hope Joyner, a 5-11 senior; MacKenzie Irwin, a 6-foot sophomore, and Brenlee McPherson, a 5-11 sophomore. “It used to be we had to set up our outside hitters,” said Carl Junction head coach Sarah Wall. “Now, every one of our kids is able to put the ball down.
“Last year, we had a couple of kids to go to. This year, everyone on the court is capable of putting the ball down.”
The task of setting up Carl Junction’s hitters falls upon sophomore Bradyn Wall, who leads the team in ace serves and averages 8.4 assists per game. “The good thing is her assist percentage is 35 percent, so they’re killing the balls she’s giving them,” coach Wall said.
The defense begins with the blocking of Joyner, McPherson and Irwin. Behind the front line, Katie Wiele, a junior, leads the team with 4.9 digs per game and Chism averages 3.6 digs per game.
“The ball is not hitting the floor as much as it used to,” Wall said. “These young kids have been touching the ball a lot more, so our ball control is getting a lot better.”
The Bulldogs’ next test comes in the tournament this weekend at Ozark, where they have been assigned to play in a pool along with Oakville, Winona and Helias Catholic. Winona is ranked No. 5 in Class 1 and Helias is ranked No. 10 in Class 4.
The day-long tournament, which begins at 8 a.m., also will be a test for Carl Junction’s nonstarters. “We have more depth than we’ve ever had,” Wall said. “Everyone is contributing every day.”
Other teams in the 12-team tournament include Reeds Spring, ranked No. 10 in Class 3; Republic, which defeated Carl Junction in an early-season matchup, and Arkansas schools Bentonville and Fayetteville.
Bentonville, which defeated Carl Junction on Sept. 10, won back-to-back Class 7A state titles in 2010 and 2011.
“It’s going to be a great tournament for us,” Wall said. “This is going to be the best competition we’ve seen in a long time.”