PITTSBURG — Albeit a scare from Pittsburg, Altamont is a breath away from being home to the back-to-back SEK League volleyball champions.
The Labette County Grizzlies swept Chanute 2-0 (25-15, 25-12) and beat Pittsburg 2-1 (25-15, 21-25, 25-8) to move one win away from locking up at least a share of the league’s tiara.
Arriving at the base of the throne the Grizzlies claimed last fall didn’t come easy on Tuesday night.
In its second and final match of the night, Pittsburg took the second set from Labette County to force a decisive third set — a loss in the match would’ve allowed Fort Scott to tie the Grizzlies atop the standings.
“Things shouldn’t be easy at this point in the season,” Labette County head coach Heather Wilson said. “You want competitive matches at this time in the season. It doesn’t help us to win 25-5. You want everybody playing their best volleyball. It’s more fun that way.”
Facing — literally — a rambunctious Pittsburg student section that smelled the blood of vulnerability leaking, star senior Anna Dean cauterized Labette County’s wound.
In the third set, Dean served on 12 straight points for the Grizzlies, turning an 8-7 lead into a 20-7 runaway. Dean notched four aces in that stretch.
“She’s a lethal server when she’s on,” Wilson said. “She hadn’t been serving as well lately, and that had been bothering her. She’s realized she can score points by adding dimensions to her game — from the front, on the back and from the service line.”
Struggles in that second set were attributed to a missing soldier on the frontline in Ashantae Smith, who was sidelined on the Labette County bench with an injury.
“We’re missing Ashantae,” Wilson said. “I was concerned about Pittsburg from the get-go, especially their middles. They get the ball a lot, so my inexperienced middles struggled a bit tonight. We got in a bad rotation where we couldn’t play offense. We still battled, though.”
In the win over Pittsburg, Dean powered in 13 kills while Lauren Forbes added 11. The two combined for only four errors.
Dean also had 11 digs while Ava Alloway led with 16. Shelbi Wilson amassed 28 assists.
As for the sweep of Chanute, Dean led with seven kills while Forbes had six.
Wilson had 14 assists while Alloway had 12 digs. Dean and Wilson had 11 digs against the Blue Comets, a young team that had shown improvement in recent weeks but went 0-2 with losses to the Grizzlies and Fort Scott on the night.
Labette County is in the homestretch of its campaign to win its second straight league title and earn a consecutive berth to the state tournament.
The Grizzlies, now 28-3 overall and 10-0 in SEK League action, head to Burlington for a tournament on Saturday before heading north to wrap the regular season at rival Parsons.
Labette County is one league win, or one Fort Scott league loss, away from securing a league title. The Grizzlies are also in first place in the KSHSAA 4A East standings — the top four seeds earn the right to host sub-state.
Wilson’s job down is to turn the pressure facing the Grizzlies into a privilege rather than an antagonist.
“That’s a real challenge,” Wilson said. “I felt that tonight, so I had to remind the girls that tonight wasn’t the crux of our season. They’re kids trying to do their best. They want to please everybody. So we’re keeping it light in practice. Ultimately, when we’re playing hard and together, they’re fun to watch and tough to beat.”