COLLINSVILLE — Having to play the Collinsville Kahoks made Belleville West coach Austin Betz more than a little nervous about the Maroons' opening match of the playoffs.
The Maroons battled their way past the Kahoks 31-29, 25-23 Tuesday in the Class 4A Collinsville Volleyball Regional.
"They're the only (Southwestern) conference team that beat us all year," Betz said. "It's unfortunate when you get the No. 1 seed and you have to play the one team in the conference that has beaten you already."
The Kahoks handed the Maroons an 18-25, 25-18, 25-23 loss on Oct. 17, and they came close to upsetting them again.
"I think they played better tonight than they did the first night when they beat us," said Betz, whose team advances to play the second-seeded O'Fallon Panthers (27-9) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the championship match of the Collinsville Regional. "Their defense was really good tonight. They were picking a lot of stuff up."
The Panthers had just as tough a time getting to the championship match as they edged Belleville East 25-23, 25-22.
The Maroons (24-12) were led by Kayla Juenger with 11 kills, Zoe Zeiter with seven kills and Toni Fields with six kills.
Setter Sam Schell had 17 assists and libero DaLynn Martin had 14 digs.
The loss ended the Kahoks' season at 14-17.
"We struggled with the finish tonight," Collinsville coach Tracy Plagemann said. "They got tight at the end, and when you get tight on serve receive, you struggle. It's one of those games where you would like to have it back. You feel like you were there, and you just couldn't pull the trigger."
The Kahoks were led by Cathy Schreiber with 11 kills, including eight in the first game.
"She has been great all year," Plagemann said of Schreiber. "She a solid, all-around kid. They didn't serve to her tonight. I wish they had served to her a little more, especially on those last couple because she has been so solid. I thought she stepped it up tonight. She was a smart hitter tonight. She made smart plays, she hit holes."
The first game was an epic struggle that started with the Maroons rolling out to a 9-1 lead thanks to three straight aces from Martin.
The Kahoks fought back to eventually tie the score at 23-23 on a kill by Sam Buettner.
Each team would serve for match point three times and be denied three times.
A kill by Zeiter brought about the fourth try for game point for the Maroons, and this time they were successful as the Kahoks had a spike land just beyond the back line.
"The good thing about this team, I will say, is that they never give up," Plagemann said. "I don't think there was one time this season where they were like, 'Give them the game. We'll start over the next game.' They never did that. They really pushed and almost got that first game."
Two kills by Zeiter and a kill and block by Juenger enabled the Maroons to grab a 5-1 lead in the second game.
The Kahoks tied the score at 5-5 on a kill by Danielle Slusher.
It was nip and tuck the rest of the way as the score was tied seven more times before the Kahoks took a 21-19 lead on an ace by Elle McCarthy.
The Kahoks led 23-20 after a serving by the Maroons, but Juenger slammed a kill off a couple of blockers and then out bounds to tie the score at 23-23.
A kill by Zeiter and an ace by Schell brought an end to the match.
"We toughed it out," Betz said. "We were a little off tonight. We weren't playing real clean. The passes weren't perfect, the sets weren't perfect, so we had to work a little bit to get the job done."
The Panthers also had to work to get the done.
"East is very athletic, very talented," O'Fallon coach Melissa Massey said. "They wanted it just as bad as we did. Sometimes on both sides it wasn't pretty, but sometimes you get that when you have girls who nervous and emotional. You just have push past it."
The Lancers led 23-22 in the first game after a kill by Montira Mosby, but back-to-back tips by Nzingha Clarke helped the Panthers reel off a three-point run to pull out a win.
In the second game, the Panthers led 19-14.
The Lancers got back-to-back kills from Shelby Ridgeway and a kill from Aaliayh Gladney to close the gap to 23-22.
A kill by Aubrey Keilbach and a tip by Ridgeway that narrowly landed out of bounds enabled the Panthers to end the match.
"We are not a very vocal team, we are not a very emotional team," Massey said. "I told them that sometimes they have to find that inner whatever it is and push past that. They did. I felt like they came through at the end and pushed past that."
Clarke had eight kills and three blocks, while Keilbach had three kills for the Panthers.
Ridgeway had eight kills and three service aces for the Lancers, who ended their season at 18-16.
"We played aggressive from Point 1 to Point 50, so I am really pleased with that effort," East coach Stacey Posey said. "I felt like we were never intimidated."
The Lancers will lose only two seniors, but they're two key cogs in Mosby and Jozlynn Brooks.
Montira is the all-time kill leader in program history, and she's second in aces," Posey said. "She needed one ace to tie the all-time ace leader in program history, but she didn't get it tonight. We lose two really substantial parts of our offense and our defense."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.