A loss to Mississippi Valley Conference volleyball rival Triad may have ignited just the right kind of attitude change for the Highland Bulldogs.
“We got a little overconfident and the kids didn’t play all the points hard,” Highland coach Tina Beyer said. “That definitely was an eye-opener for us. I was glad to see they pulled it back together.”
The Bulldogs (10-2) did more than that, they rocked out four straight wins Saturday to claim the championship of the Granite City Tournament. Highland’s Hayley McSparin, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter headed to the University of Alabama, pounded out 47 kills on the day and was named Most Valuable Player at the tournament.
Junior Alex La Porta also was named to the all-tournament team.
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“It was a good weekend for us to get those wins under our belts and work out some kinks,” said Beyer, who made some recent lineup changes that are beginning to pay dividends.
Among the changes were moving La Porta from outside hitter to middle hitter, where Beyer said she appears to be more comfortable and can team up with the dynamic McSparin to create additional firepower.
“She’s got the speed, she’s got the height and she’s super-aggressive,” Beyer said of LaPorta, second on the team with 72 kills.
Beyer also moved her starting libero, Sara Beth Wiegman from libero to strong side hitter even though Wiegman had been a libero since her freshman year.
“Although she’s short, the girl’s got hops and she’s doing a great job swinging on the strong side for us,” said Beyer, who also promoted freshman libero Emmy Nyquist to varsity.
The serving of senior Alyssa Anderson has also been a big plus, as has the setting of Sami Beyer (averaging 9.9 assists).
“Alex in the middle gave us a little more speed and Emmy’s got fast speed to the ball defensively,” Beyer said.
The main weapon of choice is still the powerful hitting of McSparin, whose 104 kills places her high among the St. Louis area leaders. She’s also among the area leaders with 20 service aces.
“She is dominating and she is really connecting right now,” Beyer said. “She’s so strong and focused, I really think it’s fabulous. She really wants to have a good solid senior year. Everyone was talking about her (last) weekend because she was just dominant.”
While her hitting has always been strong, Beyer said McSparin has improved many other aspects of her game.
“She’s running the court really well and is very, very confident,” Beyer said. “She’s one of the top servers in the area. She’s really blossomed and emerged and grown.”
West wins at Jacksonville
Belleville West suffered its first loss of the season to O’Fallon on Tuesday, just three days after winning five straight matches to capture the championship of the Jacksonville Invitational.
West seniors Kayla Juenger and Nicole Braner each were named to the all-tournament team after the Maroons knocked off Morton in three sets to win the championship.
New Athens claims tourney title
After three straight second-place finishes, the New Athens Yellow Jackets (10-4) finally left the Massac County Superman Slam Classic in Metropolis with a tournament championship. Senior Alina Lance was named the tournament MVP and had two late kills to help clinch the title.
A strong reminder from coach Kyla Patton during a timeout in the championship match may have helped sharpen the focus for her club. The Class 1A Yellow Jackets, which knocked off host Massac County in the semifinals, then beat 3A Centralia 20-25, 25-23, 15-13 in the championship.
The ‘Jackets erased a late four-point deficit.
“I said ‘You guys want to be remembered, that’s been your theme all year. No New Athens team has ever won this tournament,’’’ said Patton, whose team went 5-0 to win the title. “They went out there and and at that point it was like no team was ever going to beat them. We played some 2A and 3A schools there, so the girls played really well.”
New Athens took quite a hit to graduation, losing three all-conference starters that played all the way around. However, the ‘Jackets also have won their last seven matches.
“I knew this group had talent and it was just putting the puzzle pieces together,” Patton said. “They proved to me this weekend that they’re mentally tough. It clicked and everything started working together.”
Lance, Abby Marlow and setter Savanna Idecker all made the all-tourney team along with sophomore Taylor Junge. Marlow leads New Athens with 115 kills while Lance has 101.
At the tournament, Marlow had a team-high 45 kills and Lance had 35 along with 32 digs. Idecker had 97 assists while Junge had 26 points and 12 service aces.
Marlow recently committed to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a softball pitcher and Lance will play softball for Lakeland.
Centralia was 4-1 at the tourney and Anna-Jonesboro was 3-2.
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)
Also receiving votes: Mascoutah (13-4), Freeburg (12-6), Highland (9-2), Belleville East (6-7), Alton (15-3), Central (3-9), East St. Louis (6-3)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Red Bud (2)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (7-5) ,Valmeyer (12-7), Carlyle (4-5), Dupo (6-9)