EDWARDSVILLE — Edwardsville volleyball coach Andy Bersett truly believes the Tigers have as much talent as any team in the Southwestern Conference.
On Thursday, the Tigers' mental game showed improvement.
Led by the outside attack of Will Frank and Brandon Davis, Edwardsville recovered from a late meltdown in the second game and went on for a 25-22, 10-25, 25-18 win over the O'Fallon Panthers.
After outlasting the Panthers in a see-saw first game, the Tigers' attack fell apart midway through game two, when O'Fallon junior Alex Belongy served the final 10 points to tie the match.
O'Fallon senior Dirk Husemann had a pair of blocks and a kill to key the run, which also included four Tigers hitting errors.
But when Edwardsville's Jake Vandever served the first four points of the third game, the Tigers were back on track.
"At this time of year, we're not a finished product, O'Fallon isn't a finished product and neither is Belleville East or Belleville West, We're all trying to get better and I thought we did that tonight,'' Bersett said. "I thought our fight was better today. I thought we had mental toughness.
"But you have to sustain that for an entire season. We had lapses tonight and when they happened, O'Fallon scored on us. But when we stay focused for an entire match, good things will happen.''
Trailing 6-2, O'Fallon rallied behind senior John Hartkop.
One of the top middle hitters in the SWC, Hartkop had a spike then teamed with Nolan Melesky on a block as the Panthers (2-1) tied the final game at 9.
Following a pair of missed kills by both teams, the Panthers' Jon Hobbs served a pair of winners to give O'Fallon its biggest lead of the game at 13-11.
But it didn't last.
With O'Fallon leading 15-14, Frank served a clean ace and followed with a serve that the Panthers couldn't return to put his team up 16-15.
Davis then increased Frank's service run to four straight points, when he hammered a pair of powerful left-handed kills down the sideline as the Tigers' lead reached 18-15.
O'Fallon would get no closer than two points the rest of the way.
A Vandever block made the score 20-16 and a block by Bryce Wunderlich seconds later increased the Tigers' lead to five points.
Finally, when an O'Fallon player misfired on match point, Edwardsville (4-4) had its biggest win of the young season.
"You know what? That's a heck of a volleyball team over there. When you've won the way O'Fallon has won the last year or so, records don't lie,'' Bersett said. "But we've got to put this one into perspective. It's a long volleyball season and there is still a long way to go.
"After Tuesday night we took a step back and asked ourselves if we were working hard enough. I thought we had a better practice on Wednesday and tonight we played better. But it's going to get more difficult as the season goes on.''
O'Fallon coach Katelyn Hagarty was anything but pleased with the way her Panthers played.
Returning several key players from a team which was the best in Southern Illinois last year, O'Fallon seemed off-balance from the outset.
And following the spirited rally in game two which drew them even, the Panthers couldn't sustain their momentum.
"We were not ready to play tonight. Plain and simple,'' Hagarty said. "We were unable to stop them tonight in either the first or third games.''