TOWN AND COUNTRY — Webster Groves juniors Ezra Maupin and Jack Hendrix have spent the entire season perfecting their connection on the volleyball court and it paid off when the stakes were at their highest on Tuesday night.
Maupin took over in the fifth set of the Class 3 boys volleyball semifinal against Whitfield at Maryville University, powering the Statesmen to a 25-20, 25-27, 18-25, 25-20, 15-7 win.
The middle hitter put down five kills and had a key block in the final frame to tilt the momentum the Statesmen’s way.
“It was legendary, for sure,” Webster Groves coach Ryan Mahl said. “He's definitely living up to the expectations we had for him right now and Jack our setter is also giving him the perfect set ball as well. I mean, he touches probably higher than everyone else that playing in the state tournament still.”
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That high set has been a point of emphasis every day in the gym between the two.
“It's been a long journey, up and down,” Maupin said.
“Throughout club, I don't have middles that jump as high as Ezra,” Hendrix said. “So that's definitely been a personal struggle all season, setting them high enough. But this game it definitely showed up.”
Jackson Egel and Maupin began the fifth set with consecutive blocks. Jacob Assouad followed with an ace and Maupin put down a kill to give Webster Groves a commanding 6-0 lead.
“Whenever we tend to get blocks, we get a lot of momentum,” Maupin said. “I just love getting blocks for the team to get momentum.”
Maupin was just getting started and he blasted four more kills to set up an Egel spike that ended the 1 hour, 59-minute match.
“This is a momentum sport and, you know, they made a couple of big plays early on in that set that set the tone,” Whitfield coach Rob Kampen said. “We struggled to dig out of it from that point.”
Maupin finished with 14 kills and Kyzer Strawbridge and Aidan Whitemountain each had eight for Webster Groves (19-9-1), No. 5 in the STLhighschoolsports small school rankings. Hendrix had 34 assists.
Webster will face No. 1 De Smet (34-1) for the state championship on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Statesmen are seeking their first state title, while the Spartans are going for their third, but first since 2009.
Zach Kampen had 15 kills and Maksim Serdotetskov put down nine more for No. 3 Whitfield (25-7-2), which advanced to its first final four in just its fourth season of varsity play. Max Ott had 34 assists.
Webster Groves took control late in the opener from the service line. Assouad put down back-to-back aces and Egel added another. Maupin put down a pair of thunderous spikes and a Hendrix tip clinched the first set for the Statesmen.
Hendrix made it a point to work his middle hitters.
“Both of our middles can jump out of the gym and especially when their setter was front row, I made sure to set the outside because we had a big mismatch there,” Hendrix said.
Whitfield fought off two consecutive set points in the second set with kills from Kaeden Anderson and Serdotetskov. An Anderson ace gave the Warriors set point and a combination block from Stuart McKown and Serdotetskov evened the match at a set apiece.
Whitfield jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start the third set and never trailed. Zach Kampen put down three kills and a pair of aces and Quinn Hoermann, Anderson and Serdotetskov each had a pair of kills as the Warriors took a 2-1 lead.
“I think they overwhelmed us with their serve early in the in the first set and we struggled to adjust to that,” Rob Kampen said. “We got our service receive together in the second and third set, and you know, when we can do that, and we can be in system, we're a hard team to stop.”
Strawbridge had the hot hand for Webster Groves in the fourth set. Strawbridge put down three spikes, was part of a key combination block with Cam Phillips, and added an ace to set up a Whitemountain laser on set point to extend the match to a fifth set.
Webster Groves and De Smet did not play each other in the regular season.
“Take care of the first touch, serve in and aggressive and pass well,” Mahl said. “If we pass well again, we're going to be in a good spot.”