O'FALLON — After finding their groove in the second game, the O'Fallon Panthers lost it again in the third game.
The host Panthers were unable to ride the momentum of a strong second game and fell the Champaign Central Marooons 17-25, 25-12, 7-15 Saturday in the championship match of the Autumn Classic Volleyball Tournament.
"I don't want to take away from the way they played all tournament because they did play hard, but it's just frustrating to end like that,'' said O'Fallon coach Melissa Massey, whose team dropped to 24-9 on the season.
O'Fallon middle hitter Nzingha Clarke, who had 15 kill on 28 attempts in the championship match, was chosen as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
"Games up to (the championshp match), she was just ridiculous blocking,'' Massey said of Clarke. "People couldn't get anything past her.''
Clarke was on the bench waiting to rotate back into the action as the Maroons went on a 8-1 run to close out the third game.
"I was on the bench and I was like, 'Can I just please go in?''' Clarke said.
Clarke had a surprised look on her face when her name was announced to receive the MVP plaque.
"I saw all the ones (medalions) that go around your neck were gone, so I was like, 'Oh, I don't qet one.' Then I heard my name and I was like, 'Oh, yeah,''' Clarke said.
Champaign Central Evan Hook said his team has recently made a habit of going three games in a lot of matches.
"That seems to be our M.O. for the week,'' said Hook, whose team escaped an upset bid by Metro-East Lutheran 25-15, 22-25, 15-13 in the semifinals. "We win the first, I don't know what happens in the second. We're trying to figure that out. And, then in the third, we come out and accomplish the goal.''
The Maroons spread the ball around to their assortment of hitters.
Dana Westfield, Madaldeine LaGrande, Alyssa Olson and Erin Roux all had between four and seven kills.
"We've found through the year that to be a successful team, we just can't keep going to the same spot,'' Hook said. "We need to disperse the offense or you'll get blocked. Teams are so good this day and age, and players are bigger and bigger than they were 20 years ago.
"You can't have one player out there dominating unless she's like 6-foot-8.''
Champaign Central libero Katie Sloniger was the Maroons' lone representative on the all-tourney team.
Triad's Abby Shockley, O'Fallon's Aubrey Keilbach, Metro-East Lutheran's Anna Kellar and McKenna Judge, Highland's Olivia LaPorta, Salem's Kyla Cook and Red Bud's Ali Ringering rounded out the rest of the all-tourney team.
The Highland Bulldogs took home the third-place trophy. They beat the Metro-East Lutheran 25-20, 25-20 in the third-place match.
Highland coach Tina Beyer feels like her team is picking up speed heading into the final week of the regular season.
"We beat Triad this morning after losing to them twice before,'' Beyer said. "It was nice to get that win this morning and we played pretty solid against Metro-East (Lutheran). We've got two (Mississippi Valley) conference games this week.
"We have Mascoutah and Waterloo, and I don't know if we can change the (MVC) standings, but we'd like to finish strong.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.