The Hannibal volleyball team rallied around senior Shelby Nelson to dominate Boonville and run the table in the NCMC.
There was extra motivation Thursday night for the Hannibal volleyball team to beat North Central Missouri Conference rival Boonville at Korf Gymnasium.
It extended beyond the fact that a win secured the Lady Pirates’ third consecutive undefeated conference record.
They wanted to win for Shelby Nelson.
Nelson is the lone Hannibal (18-9, 10-0 NCMC) senior. The 25-11, 25-10 victory Thursday was the final home match of the team captain’s career.
“All of us on this court, we really wanted to win for Nelson,” junior Claire Thomas said. “We wanted to win for our team, we wanted to keep conference. It was a wanted win.”
Hannibal has now won eight straight NCMC titles. Nelson has been on a championship team every season of her high school career. To recognize all the time Nelson has put into the program, her teammates celebrated her the best way they knew how. The festivities included balloons, posters and even custom-made shirts with a caricature of her face.
“It was phenomenal,” Nelson said. “The atmosphere in the gym was super hyped. Especially when we were warming up, you could tell that everyone was ready to go. We came out and we played well. I couldn’t have been happier. I was pumped.”
Wanting to send Nelson out right, Thomas took matters into her own hands to help Hannibal breeze through the first set. The middle delivered consecutive kills to build an 8-3 lead.
“She’s just the nicest person on the team and out of anybody out on the court,” Thomas said of the senior. “She’s never mean. She’s never said a negative comment unless it’s constructive criticism. And all the younger kids, they’ve always loved her. She’s just a great role model.”
Hannibal surged to a 7-point streak in the middle of Game 1 thanks in part to a roll shot kill by Maddie Janes. Thomas followed with her fourth kill of the night before Abby Baumann served an ace.
Nelson, a middle who finished with a team-high 11 digs, recorded her first of four blocks on the night to make it 19-8 and smoked an ace for the final point of the runaway set.
“It’s nice knowing I didn’t go back there and mess up on my senior night,” Nelson said with a smile. “It was nice to come out and play really well. It worked out tonight.”
After falling into an early 4-0 in the second set, Nelson helped steer the Lady Pirates back in the right direction with a kill to regain momentum.
Baumann followed with a kill on the next play before Kyler Rademan struck for a back-side kill to take a 5-4 edge.
Hannibal never gave the lead back.
Thomas controlled the net with a match-high eight kills, calling for the ball from setters Rademan and Kaylee Falconer (13 assists and nine digs) every opportunity she could.
“That’s the most kills she’s had all season,” Hannibal coach Kelsey Whitley said. “She’s really starting to step up by doing those little things like turning her shoulders at the net. Instead of dropping her arms when she’s blocking, she’s keeping her hands in front of her and going straight up at those hitters. Those little things make a world of difference.”
Hannibal demoralized Boonville when a Janes kill made it 15-7 to end a lengthy volley. That point was moments after Nelson came through with a back-row kill.
Nelson capitalized to put down two Boonville overpasses and also got another block before libero Haley Ballinger joined in on the fun with an ace to go up 23-8 en route to the 25-10 blowout
Whitley mentioned her team played with a level of intensity she hopes it carries into the Class 4 District 7 Tournament that begins Monday with a match against Battle.
Hannibal already clinched the NCMC championship prior to Thursday’s match but held off on its celebration until after completing the league schedule.
“They were playing not only for a conference title, but they were playing for Shelby,” Whitley said of her team. “Heck, I wish it was senior night every night with the way that they played. We played as a team, we came out strong, we handled Boonville and we won conference.”