After never winning a girls volleyball regional championship before this season, the New Athens Yellow Jackets have added some more impressive hardware.
New Athens balanced attack was too much for Crab Orchard on Thursday as the Yellow Jackets rolled past the Trojans 25-13 and 25-19 to claim the first volleyball sectional title in school history.
"It's just an amazing experience," New Athens coach Kyla Patton said. "Just to watch them tonight was unbelievable. The girls really focused together on playing as a team. They came out and they were ready to go."
New Athens (27-9) gets to play a lot closer to home for the super-sectional, which is only a few miles south in Marissa. The Yellow Jackets will be facing Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division rival Lebanon (17-12). The squads split two matches this season.
"We're hoping that our community supports it, because that's the closest place other than playing in our own gym," Patton said. "We had a ton of fans here tonight and it was an amazing experience. I think that really helped the girls' momentum."
Crab Orchard (27-5) was also seeking its first sectional title.
Aleen Dutkanych led New Athens with eight kills and Anisa Al-Bori had six along with four blocks.
New Athens was dominant from the middle of the first set.
After Crab Orchard closed to 12-10, Jessica Crabtree rattled off a seven-point service run. She had three aces in that run, as well as 16 assists on the night.
"Knock on wood, right now, our serves were in," Patton said. "As long as our serves are in, we typically have effective serves."
"Their serving is the best serving we've seen this year," said Crab Orchard coach Jonathan Watts. "They serve it deep and they serve it hard. We did have a lot of problems handling their serve."
The deep serves resulted in errant passes by the Trojans. And, when Crab Orchard handed the Yellow Jackets a free ball, New Athens put it away. Sophomore Abby Marlow stretched the lead to 20-10 with a perfectly placed tip.
New Athens nailed down the first game with three kills in the final five points by Dutkanych.
"We worked on (passing) yesterday," Patton said. "I told them our passing had to be on. I watched their game on Tuesday night and I saw their middles. I told girls we had to get our passes on and feed our outsides because their middles were phenomenal."
The strategy effectively took Crab Orchard's Johanna Mandrell and Brook Arnold out of the game.
New Athens wasn't as crisp in the second game.
Crab Orchard pulled even at 16-16 on a hitting error by New Athens. However, strong net play by Al-Bori in the final five points tipped the scales in the Lady Jackets' favor.
"I've got four good solid hitters," Patton said. "I've never had that before. I think that's key. When you can execute, you can send them different places. That really helped tonight."