Perfect Knights: Mater Dei takes down West in battle of unbeaten teams

News-DemocratSeptember 12, 2013 

— Apparently the rebuilding process with Mater Dei volleyball is as simple as handing out the uniforms.

Despite heavy graduation losses from a 34-5 squad, the Knights moved to 15-0 this season with a 25-16, 25-21 victory Thursday over previously unbeaten Belleville West.

"It's true we had lots to replace, I wasn't lying," said Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers, whose team beat Class 4A power Edwardsville on Saturday to win the Tiger Classic. "They've just done a great job of handling their new roles and coming together as a team. I can't say enough about how well they've come together so quick."

As a result, the Knights continue to enjoy big nights from different players.

On Thursday it was junior Elle Gebke's turn as she finished with six kills, handled 11 of 12 serves sent her way and also started a critical three-point service run to snatch momentum away from the Maroons in the second game.

West led 14-8, 16-10 and 20-19 before Gebke and the Knights clawed their way back to finish the match in two games.

"It was her turn to take the reins," Rakers said. "We've had different girls stepping up each night. She is a gamer and a huge competitor; you can't teach a kid to have those things. You've either got it or you don't -- and she does."

Tori Johnson, Avoynna Kampwerth Chloe Beckmann and Lauren Donnewald all had three kills for Mater Dei. Lexi Kohnen had nine assists and Madison Haake had seven.

After falling behind 14-5 early in the first game and never really recovering, the Maroons (7-1) forced the action throughout most of the second game.

Led by Sarah Thomas (eight kills), Zoe Zeiter (seven kills) and Kayla Juenger (six kills), West established itself at the net with some powerful hitting.

"It really started with our serving and our serve receive," West coach Austin Betz said. "Our servers were aggressive and that knocked them back on their heels a little bit. They weren't passing as well and we were getting some free balls in there, that really allows us to run our offense. It allowed our setters to make easier decisions."

Powerful kills by Zeiter, Owens and Juenger helped fuel West's momentum.

But the Maroons' attack stalled during Gebke's service run and Mater Dei regained traction. Kills by Kohnen and Beckmann got it tied 20-20 and a Gebke kill put the Knights on top to stay.

Kampwerth closed out the match with back-to-back kills and the Knights, despite being pushed to the limit at times, were headed back to Breese with a win.

"They've got a lot of good players over there," Rakers said of the Maroons. "You can't expect anybody to just let you come into their building and let you take it to them. They're going to fight --and that's one of the things that I think Austin's really instilled in his girls. They just don't let up."

One thing Betz didn't like was a struggling start, although the Southwestern Conference teams are beginning matches at 5:30 p.m. this year. The Maroons took a while to get going and by then the Knights had already pocketed the first game.

"I was hoping we'd come out of the gates a little better," Betz said. "We were down six pretty early and even bigger than that after I called a timeout.

"Once we realized that we could play with them. ... We had the same number of kills as them in the first game and in the second game we actually had more kills than they did. They weren't giving us easy points, we had to earn them so it was going back and forth like that."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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