The names on the lineup card may have changed but the Belleville East Lancers’ recent domination of city rival Althoff remained the same on Monday in a nonconference high school boys volleyball match.
Sophomore setter Connor Martin dished out 17 assists and added five kills while outside hitter Rico Walker added 10 kills to lead the way as the Lancers soared to a 25-14, 25-13 win over the Crusaders.
A perennial St. Louis area power which is looking to reload after graduating several players, Belleville East used the steady all-around play of Martin and a balanced hitting attack to overwhelm the Crusaders.
Althoff (0-2), led 3-1 early in game behind a pair of points by Jordan Eiler and still held an 8-7 advantage following a service winner by Royce Payne. But when Martin stepped to the service line following a sideout, the match changed in favor of the Lancers for good.
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Consecutive hitting errors by Althoff gave East (2-0) a 10-8 lead and when Martin hit two straight serves Althoff failed to return, East had its biggest lead at 12-8. A third Crusaders error increase Martin’s service run to five points before a net violation ended the streak.
Althoff would get no closer then four points the rest of the first game, which ended on a Crusaders’ violation.
Belleville East senior Joshua Muckensturm then opened the second game with four straight service points and the Lancers never looked back as they gave interim head coach Dan Kloess his second straight win. Kloess is running the Lancers program this spring while head coach Stefanie Gaubatz is off on maternity leave to have her second child.
Through two matches, the Lancers have responded well to Kloess, who as the Lancers junior-varsity coach has worked with many of the current Lancers at the underclass level. Belleville East opened its season with a win over Fox (Mo.) High School last week.
“I like what I see so far. The team is working hard and doing a good job,” Kloess said. “Tonight we moved the ball and had several players step up and play well. But we need to continue to get better. There is still a lot to work on. We probably had too many serving errors, but I was pleased. I thought we played a good match.”
While the Lancers sophomore-dominated lineup could be one of the youngest in the Southwestern Conference, the Crusaders have even less experience under first-year coach Joe Murray. Many of the Crusaders are playing their first year of high school boys volleyball.
“The kids are working hard. We have some good ones. We just don’t have a lot of experienced volleyball players,” Murray said. “We’re just maybe a little too timid in our attack. I would just like to see us become a little more aggressive with out attack.”
Trailing 5-0, Althoff scored four of the next six points to cut the Lancers lead to 7-4 as Carson Von Alst had a block and a service winner, but when the Lancers’ Joseph Masterson and Matthew West each scored two points, East had an an 11-5 advantage and was well on its way to a second straight win.
Walker and Martin, both of whom played well early and help give East the early lead in game one, also made big plays in the second game.. Walker had two kills and added a block and Martin put up a couple of assists which helped set up East kills as the Lancers continued to expand their lead.
“Rico (Walker) can really jump, but we’ve got several good athletes on the front line who can put balls away,” Kloess said. “We don’t have the 6-7 or 6-8 player who can jump. But we are pretty solid with a group of 6-3 or 6-4 players who are very good athletes.”