Before Monday night, the unbeaten Columbia Eagles volleyball team had lost only one set in its first 31 matches.
So after losing the opening set to the O’Fallon Panthers, the Eagles regrouped and put on a fireworks show at the net led by Colene Hamilton and Jordan Hausmann in an 18-25, 25-21, 25-18 victory over one of the area’s top teams.
Columbia remains perfect at 32-0 while O’Fallon, which had won its previous seven matches including the championship of its own tournament on Saturday, fell to 28-6.
“I think we were all down,” said Hamilton, a Division I Central Arkansas sand volleyball recruit who was extremely quiet in the first set before putting away Set 2 with eight kills in the final 10 points. “Our first game ... we were all freaked out. It wasn’t working, so we were all looking at each other, trying to figure out what was going on.
“We got our blocks up and we just started playing a lot better.”
The turning point came with O’Fallon leading the Eagles 19-15 in the second set.
Hamilton kicked off a 10-2 run to the second set victory with a kill and pounded down eight more in the next 10 points behind strong passing by Liz Fleming and serving by Kelly Metter and Hausmann. Fleming racked up a whopping 43 assists in the match.
Our first game ... we were all freaked out. It wasn’t working, so we were all looking at each other, trying to figure out what was going on. We got our blocks up and we just started playing a lot better. Columbia senior Colene Hamilton
Kills by Hamilton closed out the second set and the match as she piled up a season-high 22 kills with Hausmann contributing 11.
“Kudos to Hamilton, she took her team and she picked them up and she just went to town,” O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey said. “I admire players like that. I love that. She played stellar, she played really, really well and picked her team up and they just kind of followed with her.”
Hamilton had plenty of help as the Eagles’ size at the net became much more dynamic after the first set loss. Hausmann and Alyssa Yochum (six kills) were effective with kills and blocks after O’Fallon’s Elise Smith (11 kills) and Imani Williamson (nine kills) were dominant early.
“Like I told (the team) when things aren’t going your way, someone needs to take charge and just fix it,” said Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf, whose team won the Freeburg Monster Mash tournament on Saturday. “You don’t need to wait for someone to figure it out.”
The Eagles’ adjustments paid off. They were able to dig deep to pull out a victory against tough competition and in an enemy gym on Senior Night.
“We’re 32-0 and I think that there’s probably a lot of people out there that question our schedule or who we play,” Landgraf said. “These girls are the real deal and they come to play. They come to compete. It’s nice to see when it does get hard they’re able to pull together.”
O’Fallon had little trouble cruising to victory in the first set, with Williamson and Smith throwing down lasers all over the court.
We’re 32-0 and I think that there’s probably a lot of people out there that question our schedule or who we play. These girls are the real deal and they come to play. Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf
Both were still effective in the second set, but Columbia’s defense improved and the Eagles’ offense hit another level entirely.
“We had only lost one set all year,” Landgraf said when asked about the ease with which the Panthers won the opening set. “You don’t know if it’s going to be discouraging or it’s something that’s going to motivate them. Obviously it motivated them.”
Columbia built a 15-9 lead to gain control in the third set, using kills by Hamilton and Yochum and strong serving by Fleming and Blair Wittenbrink.
“It’s tough,” Massey said. “We played so well this weekend and we still have a lot of season left to go. We’re going to learn some hard lessons from tonight and cruise back into the playoffs.”