BEL-NOR — Borgia sophomore hitter Ella Brinkmann stopped short of calling Thursday's 25-11, 25-19, 19-25, 25-18 triumph over Incarnate Word Academy a statement win.
But she realizes that there are plenty of questions surrounding her team after it lost six seniors from last year's squad, which won 28 of 39 of matches and finished third in Class 3.
Those questions were answered in a big way during the four-set thriller that lasted almost two hours.
"A lot of people aren't expecting a whole lot from us," the 5-foot-7-inch slugger said. "But we knew we can play with anybody.
"And we proved that to everyone else — and ourselves tonight."
Senior setter Abby Lynn, one of only two seniors on the roster, was pleased with the way the Knights passed their first big test of the young campaign.
"Nobody should count us out — ever," Lynn said. "No matter how many players we lose, we've got ones that take over and do just as good a job."
In other words, this Washington-based school doesn't rebuild — it simply reloads.
"There's a pretty high standard here," said Borgia coach C.J. Steiger, who is in his first year as girls coach after six years with the boys team.
Lynn and Brinkmann led the charge against IWA in a contest that featured two of the top three programs in the state as far as state championships are concerned. IWA has won 11 state crowns, second only to Hermann's 13. Borgia is a close third with 10 titles.
The Knights have reached the final four a whopping 19 times and gave every indication that trip No. 20 is a distinct possibility.
Lynn, a 5-10 setter heading to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, ran the offense flawlessly and also chipped in a key kill and block down the stretch of the fourth set. Brinkmann triggered the offense with a team-high 10 kills.
Newcomer Lily Brown, a sophomore transfer from Kirkwood High, added more depth to a rugged front line that also features sophomores Kaitlyn Patke, Lynsey Batson and Caroline Glastetter. Brown had six kills against IWA.
Anna Eckelkamp, the only other senior on the roster, and sophomore Annie Arand provide even more strength to an already strong back line.
The Knights (2-0) rolled to wins in the first two sets before IWA battled back behind the hitting of Anna Wilkison to capture the third set.
But Borgia came back and regained control with an impressive 7-2 blitz at the outset of the fourth set.
"We kind of fell apart," Lynn said. "And we were frustrated with ourselves. Then, we got our passing back and we had all the momentum."
Brinkmann credited Lynn's veteran presence for the turnaround.
"She has a way of just getting us to focus and getting us fired up again," Brinkmann said.
Eckelkamp got the ball rolling in the fourth set with five successive service points. Brinkmann followed with a streak of her own that started with an ace on the sideline that pushed the lead to 11-7. Lynn followed three rotations later with a kill and block on back-to-back points for a 16-8 cushion.
IWA fought back to within 18-15 behind Wilkison and a double block from Kennedy Femmer and Lauren Slemmer.
But Brown righted the ship with a kill and Brinkmann followed with a hard-hit spike to pump the advantage to 21-16. Glastetter helped finish the match with a key hit during a closing 6-2 run.
The Red Knights, at 7-1, are off to their fastest start since the 2006-2007 team won its first 10 matches. They took the Visitation Tournament crown over the weekend and captured their first seven matches without losing a set.
"We made some adjustment to try and get back in it," said IWA coach Shane Weber, former bench boss at Villa Duchesne. "But (Borgia's) defense was out-of-this-world good."
The teams decided to play a best-of-five set contest in preparation for next season when all Missouri State High School Activities Association matches will be played under that format. This year, matches can be best-of-five if both teams agree 10 days in advance.