After a regular season of trying to chase down the Edwardsville Tigers, the O’Fallon Panthers finally caught — and passed — their Southwestern Conference rivals on Friday at Alton High School.
Senior Alex Belongy led a balanced attack with nine kills and 16 assists as O’Fallon avenged three regular-season losses with a 17-25, 25-17, 27-25 win over Edwardsville in the semifinals of the Alton Boys Sectional Volleyball Tournament.
Beaten time and time again in game one by the raw power of Edwardsville senior all-stater Will Frank, the Panthers started moving and blocking well in game two then used the strong play of Belongy, Roustio and a host of others to make big plays down the stretch as they pulled off the upset win.
With the score tied at 25, Panthers sophomore Luke Meidel had a block at the net and when junior Jon Worthing’s serve down the line could not be returned on match point, the Panthers stormed the floor in celebration.
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“After losing to them (Edwardsville) in the sectional last year and then three times this year, this means a lot. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point,’’ Belongy said. “Parker (Roustio) gave us a big big lift with his blocking in the last two games, but it was a team effort. When we needed to make the plays tonight we did. This feels great.’’
The win moved O’Fallon (23-9-6) into the sectional final on Tuesday against Joliet West which defeated (New Lenox) Lincoln-Way Central 16-25, 25-23, 25-23 in the other semifinal on Friday. The game will be at Alton High School beginning at 6 p.m.
O’Fallon coach Katelyn Hagarty said she really didn’t change much in terms of strategy between games one and two. But the Panthers young and energetic coach did give her team words of inspiration.
“I just told the team that we didn’t come this far and work this hard to go down without giving it our best effort. If they beat us with the team giving it all they had then I could handle it. The first game we weren’t moving very well and we weren’t communicating,’’ Hagarty said. “I just told them that we needed to become more aggressive and go for our shots more.
“I’m just so very proud of my team. Losing all the seniors we did from last year, there weren’t a lot of people who gave us much of a chance to be playing in the sectional title match. But here we are. It was a great team effort.’’
Frank, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter was nearly unstoppable in game one as he hammered down eight of his match-high 17 kills. With senior Jake Vandever serving a clean ace followed by a pair of O’Fallon hitting errors, Edwardsville clinched game one 25-17 and seemingly had all the mommentum.
But it didn’t last. With Belongy, Worthing and Meidel all serving a pair of winning points, O’Fallon jumped out to a quick 8-5 lead in game two. A critical mommentum changing play occured seconds later when Roustio twice blocked Frank on the same point as the Panthers bench erupted.
That point gave O’Fallon a 10-7 lead and the Tigers (27-7) would get no closer the rest of game two. The Tigers also hurt themselves with sloppy serving. Edwardsville was guilty of 13 service errors.
“That hurt us. But lets be honest. O’Fallon is a very good team and we knew coming in here tonight that it wouldn’t be easy,” Tigers coach Andy Bersett said. “We didn’t have our ‘A’ game tonight and when that happens, you’re going to get beat some nights. Give O’Fallon credit. They were the better team tonight.”
The third and final game as close all the way. Held to just one kill in game two, Frank tried to take the match over latr in the final game. One of the state’s top players, Frank had five kills in six points as the Tigers took a 25-4 lead.
But Roustio tied the game with a kill from the left-side, setting the stage for the Panthers match winning points.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.