O’Fallon junior Lauren Lepere set the tone early Thursday with five service aces, and the Panthers never looked back in a 25-10, 25-17 win over Belleville East in the title match of the Class 4A Collinsville Regional.
A 5-foot-9 outside hitter, Lepere broke an early 2-2 tie with a block and followed seconds later with the first of her four service winners to put the Panthers in early command.
Belleville East (16-21), which upset Belleville West to reach the title match, never got even again. O’Fallon (30-6) easily advanced to the Chatham-Glenwood sectional, where it will face Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville.
Senior Elise Smith led a balanced O’Fallon attack with 10 kills, while junior middle hitter Kenzee Simmers added eight kills. It was the aggressive serving of the Panthers, however, that proved too much for the Lancers.
“It’s something we have really worked on hard recently. Serving aggressively and putting pressure on the other team early in the point,” Smith said. “We were able to do that tonight, and overall we played very well.
“We’re looking forward to playing Edwardsville on Monday. Hopefully it will be a different outcome from last year.”
Edwardsville, which ended O’Fallon’s season a year ago, advanced Thursday with a 25-22, 25-16 win over Quincy at the Quincy regional. Monday’s rematch has been tentatively scheduled to be played at Belleville West.
Belleville West athletic director Lee Meyer said an official site and time will be announced Friday.
The Lancers, who start several freshmen and sophomores, entered Thursday’s regional final having won four in a row, including defeats of Central, Triad and West.
“We just didn’t return serve very well, and our blocking just wasn’t there tonight,” Lancers coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. “We had played so well recently, so this is a little disappointing.”
“I don’t think we had an emotional letdown after the big win over Belleville West. I just really don’t have any answers.”
O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey said her Panthers didn’t take the Lancers lightly.
“We talked about being ready to play no matter who the opponent, and we were ready tonight,” Massey said. “From the outset I thought we were aggressive with our serving, and we were able to dictate the points.
“We always say that we play the way we practice. Well, we had a very good practice last night, and we played the same way tonight.”