The Seward County Lady Saints might just have found their stride. After flirting with the .500 mark much of the first half of the season, Seward rolled off four straight wins this weekend, keeping the Ozfest Invitational Tournament Championship in the Greenhouse, and improving their overall record to its best in two seasons at 17-11.

The Lady Saints opened the tournament with a conference match against the rival Barton Cougars. Seward got off to a slow start, falling behind 6-4 early on and remained down by a pair 13-11 midway through. While they fought to get back into it, errors plagued them and they remained in the trail 20-16 late in the set. They went down by as many as seven later on and after two Cougar kills to finish the set, lost the first 25-19. The Lady Saints didnít help themselves in the first, lending a hand to Barton with 9 attack errors and a pair of service errors.

It was a much better start for the Lady Saints in the second against the Cougars as they jumped out to an early 10-5 lead as they took advantage of a number of Barton miscues. Seward remained in control midway through the set as they extended their lead to 18-11 but a rash of hitting errors, four in a row to be exact, allowed the Cougars back into the set and before they knew it it was just a 21-17 game. Barton continued to chip away, cutting the Seward lead to just one at 22-21 before two straight Lady Saint points gave them set point at 24-21. A kill and a Seward hitting error gave Barton hope, but an attack into the net gifted the Lady Saints the second set with a 25-23 win to even the match at 1.

A pair of Kristen Anderson kills early in the third had Seward out to a 5-1 lead, but the Lady Saints struggled in the middle of the set, coughing up the lead and watching as a 5-1 Barton run put the Cougars up 11-9. The Lady Saints went eight points without recording a kill as their deficit grew to 16-13 before they got things back together and tied the set at 19 on a solo block from Morgan Riley. The two teams went back and forth to 24-24 and continued to jostle to 26-26. They traded points to 28-28 when a huge block from Annelise Sanchez and Carolina Freitas gave them another set point chance and this time they took advantage of it as a Barton attack found the net to give Seward the set 30-28. The Lady Saints finished the marathon with 17 kills in the set including 6 from Sanchez and 4 from Carolina Gasparini while Kari Anderson and Kelci Bedingfield anchored the backrow with 9 digs each in the set.

The fourth set followed much the same path as the third as Seward got out to a good start and faltered later in the set. The Lady Saints scored the first four points of the set to go up 4-0 and remained in front by that same margin at 13-9. Seward played error free until the 28th point of the set when an attack sailed wide to cut their lead to 15-13. The error spurred a 6-1 run for Barton and it was now the Cougars who held an 18-16 lead late in the set. It looked as if a five setter was in the plans as Barton extended their lead to 22-18 later on, but four straight Seward points quickly knotted the set back up at 22. With momentum on their side, the Lady Saints finished the set strong, getting an ace from Riley and kills from Nacole Miller and Sanchez to finish things off to give them a 25-23 win to take the match 3-1.

Gasparini led the Seward offense with 17 kills and also pitched in on defense with 22 digs in the Seward win. Sanchez added 10 kills while Kristen Anderson had 9 on the right side. Kari Anderson recorded a career high 32 digs in the win, the most digs in a match by any Seward player this season.

Seward improved to 7-2 in conference play with the win and sweeps the season series with the Cougars while Barton falls to 3-6 in Jayhawk West play.
SEWARD COUNTY/BARTON BOX SCORE

In their second match of the day the Lady Saints took on former Seward All-American Yang Dan and the Frank Phillips Lady Plainsmen. A good early start at the net, including a pair of blocks from Kristen Anderson got Seward out to a 6-3 lead. The Lady Saints continued to lead by three at 10-7 and held the advantage until Frank Phillips used an 8-2 run to take their first lead of the set at 15-12. The Lady Saints chipped away until they tied the set at 18 and an ace from Gasparini and a block from Riley and Sanchez put them in front by two, 20-18. It was a one point game later in the set at 23-22 and the teams traded points to 24-23 when a Lady Plainsmen hitting error gave Seward the set 25-23.

Seward controlled the second from the outset. The Lady Saints led 6-3 after a pair of aces from Bedingfield and extended their lead to 9-3 after kills from Gasparini, Riley, and Anderson. A potent offensive attack continued for the gals in green as they remained up by four at 15-11 midway through the set. Frank Phillips got to within three at 17-14, but never got any closer as a multi-pronged attack for Seward kept the Lady Plainsmen off balance and the Lady Saints cruised to a 25-19 win to take a 2-0 lead. Gasparini finished the set with 5 kills for Seward while Miller distributed 3 kills each to Riley, Sanchez, and Anderson.

The Lady Saints got off to a slow start in the third and it came back to haunt them late in the set. Frank Phillips jumped out to a 6-2 lead before Seward fought back to tie the set at 10. The Lady Saints found some momentum and scored five out of the next six points to flip the script and take a 15-11 lead. Then it was Frank Phillipsí turn for a run and the Lady Plainsmen went on a 5-0 jaunt of their own to recapture the lead 16-15. Frank Phillips continued to roll, taking a 24-20 lead late until four straight Seward points knotted the set back up at 24. Seward couldnít sideout on either of the last two points and the Lady Plainsmen squeaked out a 26-24 win to avoid the sweep.

Like the Lady Saints first match of the day, the fourth set nearly mirrored the third. Seward again were the aggressors early, taking a 6-4 lead, before Frank Phillips charged back to tie the set at 14 and later on take a 17-14 lead of their own. Seward bounced back to tie the set at 18 and from that point on, neither side could put any distance between themselves and their opponents. Seward took a one point lead and Frank Phillips came back to take a one point lead of their own. Neither team led by more than one point until the final point of the set when the Lady Plainsmen got a block to win the set 25-23 and force a fifth set.

Seward looked like they were in trouble in the fifth as they got off to a dreadful start and trailed 6-2 before a timeout. The Lady Saints roared back, scoring six straight of their own to take an 8-6 lead at the changeover. Frank Phillips momentarily took the lead back at 10-9, but a block from Riley and Miller had the score in a deadlock once again at 10-10. Again, the teams went tit for tat to 12-12 when Seward scored two straight to have two shots at match point. The Lady Saints werenít able to wrap it up on their first chance and didnít look like they would on their second either, but a Frank Phillips attack didnít find the court and Seward escaped with a 15-13 win to take the match 3-2.

Most of Sewardís damage came from the outside in the win as Gasparini and Sanchez combined for 35 kills for the Lady Saints. Miller recorded a career high 44 assists in the win while also coming up with a career high in digs with 15. Bedingfield came up big at libero for Seward, notching 28 digs and also chipping in 4 key aces in the win. Riley ended the game with 6 kills and 6 blocks in the middle for the Lady Saints.

Seward moved to 15-11 with the win while Frank Phillips dropped to 10-16.
SEWARD COUNTY/FRANK PHILLIPS BOX SCORE

After a late night Friday, with their match against Frank Phillips ending at nearly 11:00 pm, the Lady Saints were thankful that their Saturday schedule didnít have them starting until 1:00 with a matchup with Western Texas. Sewardís offense was clicking early as they took a 4-3 lead, but went ice cold after that as Western Texas rolled off six straight points to take a 9-4 lead. After drawing back to 11-9, the Lady Saints went on another dry spell and before they knew it, were in a 16-9 hole. They played catch-up the rest of the way and almost achieved it as they got to within one late in the set after a kill from Riley, but they couldnít get over the dreadful middle of the set and fell by two 25-23.

Seward was reeling early in the second set as well as they found themselves behind 6-2 right off the bat. A kill from Anderson got them going and a 6-0 run had them in front 8-6. From that point on it was all Lady Saints. Seward continued to build on their lead, going up 10-7 and then 16-8 later on. The Lady Saints finished the set with a flurry, getting six kills in the final seven points of the set to deliver a knockout punch on the Lady Westerners 25-14. Seward finished the set hitting .393 as a team including 7 kills from Gasparini and 4 from Riley in the set.

Western Texas took another big advantage early in the third, going on top 6-2 before the Lady Saints finally managed their first kill of the set nine points in to make it 6-3. The Lady Saints again battled back, chipping away at the Westerner lead until drawing even at 8-8. The Lady Saints went on an unstoppable run after that, scoring 11 of the next 14 points in the set to blow the score open in their favor 19-11. The Lady Saints cruised to the finish line, getting a kill from Gasparini to put an exclamation point on a 25-17 win to take a 2-1 lead.

The Lady Saints looked as if things were going their way again in the fourth as they got behind early 6-3, which in the first three sets, was a good thing. This time it wasnít. The Lady Saints cut the Western Texas lead to one at 7-6, but the Lady Westerners went on a 9-0 run, fueled by five Seward errors to extend their lead to 16-6. Seward never recovered. The Lady Saints never got closer than that the rest of the way as Western Texas embarrassed Seward with a 25-13 win.

Things didnít look good for the Lady Saints as Western had all of the momentum rolling into the deciding fifth set. However, the Lady Saints shook off the tough fourth set loss and came back strong to start the fifth set, getting kills from Anderson and Erika Gilbert to get things going and an ace from Bedingfield to put them up 3-0. They pushed their lead to 6-2 on a kill from Gasparini and led 8-2 at the changeover after another rocket from their freshman outside. Western Texas had no answer for the Lady Saints, who continued to put the pressure on them, keeping their distance at 13-7 before putting them away in style 15-8 on a block from Anderson and Gilbert to win the match 3-2.

Quarterbacking the offense, Miller put together another stellar effort, topping her career high of 44 assists set on Friday with 52 in this one. She distributed the ball evenly throughout the Lady Saints hitters as Gasparini finished with a team high 17 kills while Sanchez had 14 and Riley finished with 13. Defensively the Lady Saints turned in a solid effort as well. Kari Anderson led the backrow with 25 digs while Bedingfield pulled up 22 and Gasparini notched 17.

The Lady Saints improved to 16-11 with the win while Western Texas fell to .500 at 13-13, finishing the tournament 0-3.
SEWARD COUNTY/WESTERN TEXAS BOX SCORE

Unintendedly, the final match of the tournament turned into the championship match of the Ozfest Invitational as 2-1 Vernon took on the 3-0 Lady Saints. The Lady Saints got off to a slow start and trailed 6-3 before once again coming back to tie the set at 8 later on. Seward took their first lead of the match on a block from Gilbert that gave them a 10-9 lead and carried the lead to 15-12 on a kill from Riley in the middle. Vernon came back to tie the set back up at 17 and took the lead back at 18-17 as the teams began to go back and forth. Neither team was able to gain control as they remained tied five points later at 20-20. The Lady Saints got the lead back on a kill from Gasparini and went up two at 23-21 on another kill from the freshman star. An ace from Kristen Anderson gave them a 24-21 lead and they sealed the deal with Gaspariniís fifth kill of the set to win 25-21. Vernon had no answer for the Lady Saints offense in the first as Seward hit .484 and had 17 kills as a team in the period with 5 from Gasparini and 5 more from Sanchez.

Vernon did themselves in in the second set as the Lady Saints registered just two kills through the first 27 points, however managed to hold a 14-13 lead as the Lady Chaparrals gave them 10 points on errors. Even with the gifts, the Lady Saints couldnít buy themselves any breathing room though. Seward remained up just one at 16-15 until a pair of kills from Sanchez put them in front 19-16. Sanchez stayed hot, getting two more kills later in the set to push the lead to five at 22-17 and the cushion was enough for the Lady Saints to play even with the Chaps from there as they came away with a 25-20 win.

It was mainly what Vernon was doing and not so much what the Lady Saints were doing to have the two tied at 7 in the third set as well. The Chaps had 4 kills but also had 4 errors to keep the two teams even after 14 points. Sanchez got going once again and gave Seward a two point lead at 11-9 later on, but back to back errors by the Lady Saints tie the set back up at 14. It remained tied at 17 when two straight kills and a Seward timeout had the score 19-17 and Vernon continued to build on their lead before a service error did the Lady Saints in in a 25-21 win for Vernon to extend the match.

Seward got off to another good start in the fourth, leading 4-1, but once again they couldnít sustain it as Vernon came back to tie the set up at 6 and took their first lead of the period at 7-6. A 3-0 run by Seward gave them the lead back at 9-7, however the run was short lived as the Lady Chaps regained control after back to back Seward reception errors to go back up 11-10. Seward chased for the rest of the set, tying the score up on two occasions but never taking the lead again. Vernon never led by more than two but the Lady Saints could never get over the hump. A kill from Sanchez tied the set at 23 late, but two straight attack errors on the Lady Saints finished the set with Vernon in front 25-23 to force another fifth set tiebreaker.

Like they did a day earlier in the same position, the Lady Saints looked like they were in trouble early on, trailing Vernon 3-0 right off the bat in the deciding fifth set. Seward stormed back, scoring five straight points on a pair of kills from Gasparini and another from Anderson to make it 5-3 Lady Saints. Seward kept a two point lead into the changeover at 8-6, but two straight Chaparral points after the break tied the score at 8. A kill from Riley broke the deadlock and three straight Vernon errors gave the Lady Saints their first breathing room of the set at 13-9. Seward let Vernon back into it with a service error followed by a reception error to make it 13-11, but the Lady Saints finished strong, getting a kill from Sanchez to give them match point and another kill from Anderson to give them the title with a 15-11 win.

Sewardís offensive attack was evenly distributed in the win as the Lady Saints had four players with 9 or more kills and they hit .253 as a group. Sanchez rose to the occasion with a team high 17 kills for the Lady Saints while Gasparini had 13, Anderson had 11, and Riley had 9. The 11 kills for Anderson were a career high with Riley had just 1 error in her 23 swings, good for a .348 hitting percentage in the match. Miller had another huge match for the Lady Saints at the setting position, dishing out 45 assists, her third straight 40+ assist match. Bedingfield and Gasparini tied for the team lead with 20 digs while Kari Anderson added 10.

The Lady Saints finish the tournament a perfect 4-0 and bring home the tournament crown while improving to 17-11 overall. Seward is now six games over .500, marking their best record since the close of the 2011 season when they were 25-16.
SEWARD COUNTY/VERNON BOX SCORE

Three Seward players were named to the All-Tournament team including Gasparini, Kristen Anderson, and Riley. Joining the three Lady Saints were Hunter Lenz from Frank Phillips, Desjanee Johnson from Western Texas, Kiara Rivera from Barton, as well as Lauren Power and Kristina Rankovic of Vernon. Rankovic led all hitters in the tournament with 105 kills on the weekend.

Next up for the Lady Saints is a key Jayhawk West battle with conference rival Hutchinson on Wednesday at 6:30 in the Greenhouse. The Lady Dragons come into the match off of their biggest win of the year, a sweep against Colby, to tie them for the Jayhawk West lead.