BELLEVILLE — An intense competitor, Belleville East volleyball coach Stefanie Gaubatz admits she would rather see her team in a close match rather than an easy one.
On Thursday, the Belleville West Maroons provided a close one before the Lancers claimed the Belleville city title with a 26-24, 25-23 win.
"I would much rather play a close match. It's not as much fun when you're winning easily and playing close matches helps prepare you for the postseason,'' Gaubatz said. "We've got at least one more match with West this year and any time we play them, it could go either way. We just need to keep getting better in practice because we know they'll be doing the same.''
Pushed to the limit by the Maroons, East (4-0) got a combined 30 kills from its junior trio of John Mathews, Josiah Bergt and Taylor Quinley to key the victory.
West (3-5), led by 14 kills from junior Cade Dibadj, made East earn every point and didn't go down for good until a Mathews' kill ended its night.
Mathews appeared to hit the net on match point, but no call was made.
"Something hit the net. I was hoping it was him (Mathews),'' Maroons coach Austin Betz said. "Give them (East) credit. They put the ball down.
"I'm proud of my team though. We played our best match of the year and the defense, led by Nick (Stevenson), was outstanding and made some remarkable digs. We just made some mistakes at crucial times in the match which hurt us.''
Both games went down to the wire.
In the opener, three straight kills by Mathews gave East a 16-13 lead and the Lancers owned a 17-14 advantage when Maroons senior Cody Hobbs stepped to the service line
Following kills from Dibadj and Trevor Juenger, Hobbs served consecutive aces which were followed by a pair of hitting errors as West took a 20-17 lead.
A kill by Quinley finally ended the Maroons' streak.
West later had a game point,but when Juenger fired a serve into the net, the Lancers had a second chance.
Leading 24-22, but with the Lancers' Patrick Smith serving, West made consecutive errors to tie the score.
Mathews gave East its first game point when he hammered home a kill before a potential game-tying shot by the Maroons fell inches wide on the sideline. The point gave East the opening game by a 26-24 score.
Building on their momentum, the Lancers jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the second game. But a five-point service run by Dibadj got West back into it.
Neither team would lead by more than three points the rest of the way.
With the score tied at 21, Quinley notched the last of his nine kills to give East the lead for good.
Mathews followed minutes later with his match-ending kill. Mathews finished with13 kills, while Quinley (9 kills) and Bergt (8 kills) also had big nights.
"It was a great match. It's always more fun when we play West and when it's close it makes it even better,'' Gaubatz said. "We look to John (Mathews) a lot of the time, but I thought our setter Patrick (Smith) did a good job of spreading the ball around tonight. I thought Josiah (Bergt) and Taylor (Quinley) also had good nights hitting for us.
"I'm pleased. It's always good to beat the (city) rivals. We've still got some work to do.''