Pushing state volleyball power Mater Dei to the limit on its home court is never easy, but the Belleville East Lancers came out strong Tuesday in their first match under new varsity coach Stefanie Marlin Gaubatz.
After dropping the first set 25-15 in the season opener for both teams, Belleville East pushed back hard on the Knights and three times held five-point leads late in the second set. But led by the serving of Erica Lampe and kills by Kelly Voss, the Knights roared back with an 8-1 run to close out the Lancers in the second set, 25-23.
“Give it to Belleville East, they outplayed us the majority of that second set,” said Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers, whose team was 38-4 last season and finished third at the Class 3A state tournament. “They brought it. They decided they were going to stop tipping and starting swinging and it was a difference-maker there for a while.”
Then the real difference-maker stepped up in the form of Mater Dei senior outside hitter Kelly Voss. Voss collected seven of her eight kills in the second set, also adding a crucial block to give Mater Dei its first lead in the second set at 23-22.
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Voss’ crafty tip kill made it 24-23 before Mater Dei’s Brooke Remmert guided a serve off the net that fell to the floor and clinched the match before a large crowd at the Knights’ home gym.
“We were obviously nervous coming in because it was our first match and the first game together as a new program,” Gaubatz said. “I was very happy with the team that showed up tonight and how hard they worked — and how hard they pushed.
“I think we had jitters in Game 1 obviously, but I think Game 2 really showed how we could play. We had a little bit of a mental breakdown when it got tight, but that’s expected and we’re just going to work through that.”
Voss, a 6-foot senior and McKendree University recruit, made sure the Lancers’ upset bid was short-lived.
“We needed the points and (setter) Katie Haake knew where she was going,” Rakers said. “I don’t think there was a point where she wasn’t going to Kelly and (Kelly) just kept putting them away. That’s what you expect out of that kind of kid.”
Mater Dei’s Kat Maue added three kills and three blocks and Lampe had a six-point service run when the Knights needed it late in the second set. Lampe also had a five-point run in the first set.
Rakers said both teams were fighting opening-night jitters and it showed with a few unforced errors and violations on both sides.
“That’s exactly the way we started last year when we played Mascoutah and we were down in the third game 22-16,” Rakers said. “(We) turned it around and that’s a big deal to be able to do that.”
When Belleville East took its game to another level, riding strong net play by Holly Badgley (four kills), Shelby Ridgeway (four kills) and Katey Sauerwein (four kills), the Knights had another level of their own.
It was enough to close out the Lancers, who showed a lot of fight playing in one of the toughest settings for opposing teams in the metro-east.
East led Mater Dei 20-15, 21-16 and 22-17 and still was unable to find a way to push the match to a third game.
“Those are the times when we’ve got to work on stringing those last few points together,” Gaubatz said. “Those are the hardest points to score, especially when it’s match point for them. They made some errors and our main focus was to capitalize on their mistakes and try to string some points together and go on some runs.
“We did that in the second game for sure.”