WARDSVILLE — In a volleyball rivalry between two of Central Missouri's top programs, the Helias Lady Crusaders have kept it one-sided for years and years.
Now the Blair Oaks Lady Falcons finally have a reason to celebrate.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Blair Oaks knocked off Helias on Tuesday, winning in straight sets 25-22, 25-15.
"It's a big deal," Blair Oaks coach McKenzie Bennett said. "I don't know that any of these kids on the varsity team have been able to say that we have beaten them in their time being here."
Blair Oaks was coming off its first loss of the season last Thursday to Fatima. Not taking the rivalry with Helias into account, Bennett made it a point of emphasis to her team not to let a losing streak build as the regular season winds down.
"We really worked on some things this past week, and a lot of it was mental stuff: How to be stronger, how to come back from a loss," Bennett said. "Tonight, they did a really good job of that."
The Lady Falcons have suffered only 13 losses in the past five seasons, but eight of them have come at the hands of the Lady Crusaders. Although the matches have been close in recent years, Helias had not lost a set to Blair Oaks in the past decade.
And Tuesday's start looked to continue that trend, as Helias built a 7-3 lead in the first set.
"It was looking pretty good," Helias coach David Harris said. "But we have a tendency to, when things start going bad, we start tensing up and not playing well. I thought we had gotten over that the last couple weeks."
Blair Oaks cut into the Helias lead with kills by Alyssa Hargus and Elsie Villmer. Hargus added a block to tie the score at 9.
The two teams traded points for the next four points until a ball hitting the ceiling disrupted a volley and cost the Lady Crusaders a point, giving Blair Oaks a 12-11 lead.
The Lady Falcons never trailed the rest of the set, getting kills from Mariah Radmacher and Villmer to extend the lead to 16-13.
"We've spent a lot of time on serve-receive the past couple of days," Bennett said. "I think that really paid off for us, being able to take that lead. We serve-received against some tough serves really well."
A block from Kennedy Flanner extended the Blair Oaks lead to 19-13, but Helias began to chip away. Chapel Dobbs had a kill on a free ball, then added another kill to make the score 21-17.
Blair Oaks had three errors to close the gap to 23-21. Then Flanner recorded two kills in the final three points, including a kill from the right side on a spike down the middle to clinch a first-set win for the Lady Falcons.
"She's done that all season," Bennett said. "She doesn't get to hit a lot, but when she does, it's good."
There wasn't much suspense in the second set. Helias scored the first point on a kill by Cadie Buschjost, but Blair Oaks answered with five straight points and never trailed again.
"We just weren't making very many errors," Bennett said. "At times, it looked really effortless. We were just working really hard and it was paying off."
Helias closed the gap to 11-9, but Blair Oaks reeled off a 7-0 run to take an 18-9 lead. Radmacher had two kills during that stretch, while Hargus and Emma Schroeder each had one.
While the offense was thriving, Bennett said Blair Oaks' defense in the second set was the best she had seen all season. Tori Martin and Madison Mitchell each finished with 15 digs and Schroeder had a team-high six blocks.
"It didn't necessarily look like it, but we picked up everything that came on our side, and we picked it up well," Bennett said.
The second set ended in an anticlimactic fashion, as the two teams traded service errors to finish the match.
Rather than celebrate like they hadn't beaten Helias since the 1990s, Blair Oaks players quickly moved to the net to shake hands afterward.
"It's great to get this big win," Bennett said. "I think the Fatima loss was a little defeating to them, so we just focused on there being another team on the other side of the court and we have to keep playing."
Radmacher led Blair Oaks with 14 kills.
"She jumps so high, so she can see the whole court before she swings," Bennett said of Radmacher. "She finds the areas to hit."
Villmer added seven kills, while Flanner finished with three. Mitchell tallied 26 assists for a double-double and also served three aces.
"They played well tonight," Harris said. "They played better defense, they served better, they hit much better, they blocked better than we did. They just outplayed us in every phase."
Jordan Benward had a team-high five kills for Helias, while Dobbs added four kills. Claire Bonnot finished with 10 assists and Lacey Heidbrink had 15 assists.
Helias (14-7) hosts Hermann next Monday before facing Jefferson City in a rematch Tuesday at Fleming Fieldhouse. Following Saturday's title in the Lutheran South Tournament, this marks the first time Helias has lost back-to-back matches this season.
"We played with a lot of energy and a lot of focus over the weekend," Harris said. "We played as a team. The last couple nights, we haven't had energy and our focus has been non-existent.
"Momentum is a funny thing. It's hard to get, then it's hard to keep once you've got it."
Blair Oaks (22-1) is also off the rest of the week and plays next Monday at Owensville.
In the JV match, Helias won in straight sets 25-18, 25-16.
Beth Luebbert had six kills to lead Helias (15-6), while Tori Schmidt had eight assists and Kendal Saucier added 12 digs.
Payton Mitchell had nine kills for Blair Oaks (20-4-1), Madi Rissmiller finished with 11 assists and Sam Laughlin tallied seven digs.
In the freshman match, Blair Oaks won 25-23, 21-25, 25-21.
Aubrey Hardwick and Abbi Wieberg had eight and seven kills, respectively, for Blair Oaks (15-4-2), while Emma Scruggs had 15 assists and Kenley Mitchell finished with 12 digs.
For Helias (14-3), Kambrie Lenox had eight kills, Josie Morasch finished with 14 assists and Ava Millard added 10 digs.