By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Bishop LeBlond volleyball has been here a lot throughout history, making deep runs into the postseason.
It’s a program that’s won 11 district titles in the last 14 years.
But, this LeBlond team in particular is used to the big stage. Just two years after a state runner-up finish, the Golden Eagles are in their fourth Final Four in program history.
Winning more than 30 games for the first time since 2015, LeBlond (32-4) has won 15 straight matches, winning a district title and beating Lone Jack in quarterfinals in four sets last weekend to reach Cape Girardeau this weekend.
Kim Huss, in her 19th season as LeBlond’s head coach, says this team expected to get back to the Final Four, not quite like 2021 - a team that had only two senior starters.
"I think it feels different, because this group has been driven to (get back to the Final Four)," Huss told KFEQ Radio. "Two years ago, we weren't surprised by it, but we thought it was a rebuilding year. We were pretty young. It wasn't exactly what we thought would happen."
"This year, we've been building up to it."
Sophomore and right-side hitter Rilyn Conard has emerged as a young leader on this team, leading the way with 372 kills and 353 digs. She says the work to get here dates back to offseason workouts this summer.
"From the very beginning of the season and over the summer, we knew that this bond we have as a team is very special," Conard said. "So, I think we're excited for this weekend to see what we can do. But, I'm already very proud of everything we've accomplished this season."
LeBlond gets set to play Hermann Friday in state semifinals at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau at 4 p.m.
It was Hermann that swept the Golden Eagles in the state championship match in 2021. While Hermann is 19-18 coming in, the Bearcats are in their eighth straight Final Four.
That said, LeBlond senior and setter Kyla Conard says this challenge does not intimidate them.
"Hermann is a good program and we know that," Kyla said. "I don't think we can dwell on that. We have to use that as our motivation and prepare adequately to be able to play to the best of our ability. We're using that as our motivation. We know we're good, too and we're prepared to get to this point. So, we're going to continue to work hard."
Rilyn and Kyla Conard are one of three sets of sisters on the LeBlond team, joining Leah and Ella Frazee and Maddie and Kaitlyn Sego.
Huss says, though, this whole group feels like a family.
"We have to give credit to the families of these kids," she said. "A lot of them have been playing volleyball together since middle-elementary school. The buildup of them achieving started a long time ago. So, we're super excited to have this group of sisters and we're having fun with that for sure."
This is the fourth Final Four in history for LeBlond volleyball. The Eagles finished fourth in 2012, third in 2015 and second in ‘21.
It seems like the next natural step would be a state title. And Huss says, if that does happen, that’s no coincidence.
"They've been to the Show-Me Center, they know what that looks like," Huss said. "They won't walk in wide-eyed. The younger sisters, they were all there, so they know as well. We're set up for a tough matchup in the first round, but I think if anyone can achieve it, this team can achieve it."
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