Two teams from the same small town in Southern Illinois carried a combined 10 state championships onto the volleyball court with them Thursday night.
It will be the Mater Dei Knights whose pursuit of trophy No. 11 continues with its defeat of rival Central in the championship game of the Class 3A Centralia Regional. Mater Dei defeated the Cougars 27-25, 25-12.
“It doesn’t really matter talentwise between us and Central,” said Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers. “There is so much emotion because these girls grew up playing with each other or against each other since they were small.”
Keeping that emotion under check was key in helping Mater Dei survive two set points in the first game and still come away with the win. And, Rakers said, it will help his Knights as they advance further into the postseason.
Mater Dei (20-9-2) advances to the Benton sectional, where it will face Massac County at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Massac County upset no. 1-seeded Marion in the Mount Vernon regional. The winner will face either Althoff or Murphysboro for the sectional championship.
Central’s season ends at 26-10.
“We were leading early and throughout in first game, and the next thing we know it was 23-22 Central,” Rakers said. “When the emotional edge switches to the other side, you have to know how you’re going to handle that. I think with the schedule we play, we have come to understand that mistakes happen, but you have to keep battling.
“We came to two set points in game one and came out with a win. That gave us a big boost heading into game two.”
Mikaela Kues led the Knights with five kills, while three others had four and two more had three. Kues had 13 assists, Sam Kampwerth had 10 and A.J. Hallemann was 16 of 16 passing from the second row to keep the Mater Dei attack clicking.
“If we moved the ball around, that’s when we do our best,” Rakers said. “All of our hitters are contributing. Right now we’re doing our jobs and handling the one-on-ones. It’s good to see, especially this time of year.”
Carter Mohesky has seen increased playing time as her play continues to improve, Rakers said. The junior served nine straight points with two aces in the second set.
Central placed third in state last season, its sixth medal over a nine-year span. Mater Dei placed third in 2015, its fifth top-four finish over seven years.