BELLEVILLE — The Mater Dei Knights bounced back from their first loss of the season and the loss of outside hitter Tori Johnson to place third in the Belleville East Metro Classic.
The Knights fell to Nerinx Hall 26-24, 25-19 on Saturday morning, ending their three-year run as champions of the volleyball tournament.
Cor Jesu beat Nerinx Hall 25-23, 22-25, 25-22 in the championship match.
Johnson, who has been plagued by shin splints, sat out the third-place match for the Knights (22-1).
Despite Johnson's absence, the Knights beat Parkway West 25-23, 25-21.
"We had to make some big moves and big changes in this game with Tori Johnson out,'' Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said. "She's such a huge piece of us. I can't pat the girls on the back enough for stepping in some big roles and handling them the way they did.''
Rakers said Johnson's injury gave the Knights (22-1) no time to mourn losing their perfect record.
"As crazy as this sounds, the fact that Tori was injured helped us because we had to rally around some kids that had to play new positions,'' Rakers said. "Because we changed the offense so much, it gave us that to focus on and that to concentrate on, and we didn't have time to think about the loss.''
With Johnson out, Rakers moved Chloe Beckmann from right-side hitter to left-side hitter and he let his second setter Madison Haake hit on the right side.
"She got eight kills and had one error, so apparently I should have been doing that,'' Rakers said of Haake. "That may force a change in how we run things.''
Rakers said middle hitter Avoynna Kampwerth also has stepped up her game.
"Avoynna Kampwerth is shining,'' Rakers said. "It's her time, and she's stepping up to the plate. Her setter Lexi Kohnen and her are out there all the time, and they are just connecting like crazy.''
Kampwerth was chosen to the all-tournament team.
Cor Jesu setter Katie LaVigne was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Also on the all-tournament team were: Annie Nikodem of Cor Jesu, Audrey Fischer of Nerinx Hall, Paige Perego of Parkway West, Maddie Timmermann of Central and Shelby Ridgeway of Belleville East.
The Central Cougars fell to Ursuline Academy 25-19, 25-20 in the fifth-place match.
"That's the way it has been going,'' Central coach Jim Cook said of a roller-coaster day that also saw the Cougars beat Parkway West 29-27, 26-28, 25-17 and lose to Cor Jesu 25-16, 25-20. "We keep talking about that if we make a mistake, we can't make three more. That's been going on for way too long. We have to find a way to get it corrected.''
Cook was glad to see his squad get pushed against elite competition.
"Going 3-2 and facing the competition we faced here instead of some other tournaments where we might have walked home with first place and been happy with ourselves without getting any experience, any push,'' Cook said. "This is what helps you playing in the playoffs.''
The Gibault Hawks outlasted Normal 25-19, 18-25, 25-19 in the seventh-place match, while the Belleville West Maroons fell to Quincy 25-13, 21-25, 25-21 in the ninth-place match.
"Over the last week, we've been in a little bit of a funk and we've slowly gotten it back through the tournament today,'' West coach Austin Betz said. "We played pretty well against Quincy. We've played them twice this year, and we've split with them. We beat them twice up in their tournament and they beat us today. We're starting to get a little bit of the confidence back, and we're starting to play a little bit better.''
The Althoff Crusaders beat East 25-17, 25-10 in the 11th-place match.
The Lancers ended up playing both of their city rivals, West (25-19, 25-10 loss) and Althoff, on Saturday.
"We try to spread them out so people don't get the opponents they see in the regular season,'' East coach Stacey Posey said. "We played so well last night, I felt like we were ready for any combination of matches today.''
The Lancers started the day with a 25-22, 14-25, 25-19 win over Gibault before running into West and Althoff.
"Overall, we had a good tournament,'' Posey said. "We struggled a lot today, but last night we played well and this morning we played well. Just consistent, aggressive volleyball, which is exactly where we want to be at this point of the season.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.