There are few better barometers that help forecast the strength of metro-east volleyball teams than the Edwardsville Tiger Classic.
Not all the top local teams are included, but many are and each year they do battle against themselves as well as top squads from the St. Louis area and throughout Illinois.
Mater Dei lost its four-year hold on the tourney championship belt last season by losing to central Illinois power Bloomington in the title game. The Knights lost 25-13, 18-25, 21-25 for one of their four losses on the season.
The tourney is set for Friday and Saturday, with the championship match scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday. Returning champ Bloomington is the top seed, followed by Mater Dei, Edwardsville and Mascoutah. Mater Dei, Edwardsville and Mascoutah are the top three teams in the latest Belleville News-Democrat Large-School Volleyball Rankings and No. 4 O’Fallon will also be competing this weekend.
“It’s a good way to start off the season,” Edwardsville coach Jami Parker said. “You get to see things you’re doing well and things that you need to improve on.”
The 16-team tourney also includes O’Fallon, Collinsville and Freeburg from the metro-east along with Carlinville, Minooka, Decatur St. Teresa, Auburn, Morton and Chatham Glenwood from Illinois Missouri teams Eureka, Farmington and Fort Zumwalt also will compete.
“It’s a good tournament,” said Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers, whose top-ranked team is off to an 8-0 start, including a 5-0 run and championship last Saturday at the Macomb Classic tourney. “Edwardsville is always a good judge of where you’re at in the beginning of the year. You’re getting to see how you handle fatigue and how you handle the power of a good team when you maybe are a little worn down, which is good.
“You need to see that you can battle through that kind of stuff.”
The tournament has been around since 1983, when it began as a six-team event. Mater Dei has won 13 tourney championships, including four in a row from 2010 to 2013 and five times in six years from 1992 to 1997.
“We slowly kind of grew it over the years and now it’s up to 16 teams,” Parker said. “It was a fairly local tournament when we came in (as a staff) and since then we’ve worked over the years to bring teams in from a broader region.”
Parker said Bloomington returns nearly all its starters from a squad that finished 27-9. She also hopes the Edwardsville Tigers can find a way to win their own tournament for the first time since 2007.
“It has been a while,” Parker said. “We’ve been in the championship quite a bit over the years, but it’s been a while since we’ve won it.”
Mascoutah may be looking for a little revenge of its own after losing to Mater Dei in three sets last week in what proved to be an epic match.
“My girls really wanted it,” Mascoutah coach Todd Gober said. “They were pretty down afterit was over and I told them it’s the first game of the year. It’s a long season and I told them we’ll probably see them again in another tournament - and hopefully both d=squads are improved and it will be a little cleaner and an even better match down the road.”
New boss at Freeburg
Former Dupo coach Brooke Kloess opened with three early wins in her new post as the coach of the Freeburg Midgets.
Along with getting to know her new players a little better during the offseason, Kloess talked about what she has learned about them.
“Expectations were actually pretty high, because after seeing them in the summer I could see they had a lot of talent,” said Kloess, who coached Dupo for three seasons. “I knew the potential was there and I wanted to try to pull it out of them. It’s tring to get the girls to buy into the program, but so far they have.”
Freeburg knocked off Waterloo 25-17, 19-25, 25-17 and beat Belleville East 25-20, 25-23, then defeated Collinsville. The Midgets were 9-23 last season.
Kloess enjoys what her front line has accomplished, but pointed to the girls on the back row as a big reason for the 2-0 start. Another is returning all but one starter.
“Our defense has been doing a phenomenal job,” Kloess said, mentioning seniors Emily Schaller (39 digs), Megan Schaller, Erica Wangelin and senior setter Jenna Rodriguez (averaging 6.2 assists per match). “They’ve been the backbone of the team right now. [Jenna’s intense and competitive and probably our biggest leader on the court along with Emily.”
Senior outside hitter Savanna Stevens (15 kills) has a verbal commitment to Lewis & Clark Community College anf has been a consistent performer, according to Kloess.
Another of the Midgets’ starters, Jenny Homann, has a softball scholarship to Murray State. Hannah Harbaugh has a team-high seven blocks while Hannah Bouas adds nine kills.
This isn’t Kloess’ first Cahokia Conference volleyball rodeo. She was a standout player at Red Bud and also played at McKendree before coaching at Dupo. She also coaches club volleyball in the metro-east for Southwest Illinois and has gotten to know or see many of the area’s top players.
“Coming from Red Bud and playing at Red Bud, I knew what to expect - and knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kloess said. “I truly believe we can be at the top this year. This is the most team chemistry I’ve had on a team that I’ve coached.”
Kloess’ assistant coach is also her husband, former Belleville East football and volleyball assistant coach Dan Kloess.
“It’s awesome because we don’t have to tip-toe around each other,” she said. “If we disagree with something, we just say it. It just works.”
News-Democrat Girls Volleyball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Mater Dei (7)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (3-0), Freeburg (3-0), Highland (0-0), Belleville East (0-2), Central (0-1), Alton (0-1), Waterloo (0-3), Alton (1-1)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Carlyle (1-0), Wesclin (1-1), Metro-East Lutheran (2-4)