All season long, New Athens volleyball coach Kyle Patton and her staff have been hammering their team on the importance of being mentally tough.
That hurt the Yellow Jackets in a super-sectional loss last year, but paid off in a big way Monday as they knocked off top-ranked Gibault 25-22, 12-25, 28-26 in a clash of area small-school powers.
“This is a big win,” Patton said. “Gibault is a great team, they’ve always been a good program. Playing and battling a team like that, that’s always had a great program, is incredible for our girls.”
New Athens (17-5), which lost to Gibault in two sets back on Sept. 2, found itself blown out in the second set Monday and trailing the third 10-5, 13-8 and 23-22. Heeding Patton’s words, this New Athens team stayed focused and finished out the win.
It wasn’t easy in a third set that was tied 12 times from 14-14 through the end with an intense atmosphere that had the air of a regional or sectional final.
“We’ve really tried to work on that every single time,” said Patton, whose team had won 12 straight before losing to Herrin on Saturday in the championship match of the Herrin Tournament. “It’s shaking off your mistakes and just focusing on the next point, staying tough the whole time. Our girls have been showing us that the last two weeks, where they just don’t give up.”
SENIORS LEAD NEW ATHENS
Senior Alina Lance led the way for New Athens with 12 kills and seven blocks with senior Abby Marlow adding nine kills.
A Marlow kill gave New Athens a 27-26 lead and a kill attempt by Gibault standout Lauren Goldschmidt sailed a bit wide down the line as the Yellow Jackets began celebrating.
Lance and Marlow combined for 11 kills during the first set, but Gibault closed to within 21-19, 22-20 and 24-22 before the Yellow Jackets finally closed things out.
NO ROOM SERVICE
A common theme for Gibault (10-3) were serving problems that never went away except for a stretch during the second set. The Hawks committed 17 service errors, giving a New Athens team that didn’t need much help a little more assistance.
“That’s what I just told them,” Gibault coach Heather Lazarides said. “It’s not typical of our team to serve out as much as we did. That’s exactly what the problem was. I think they’re going through some stuff that has nothing to do with volleyball. There’s something else going on.”
The Hawks would have hammered the Yellow Jackets even more in the second set without six service errors that handed New Athens half its points.
Gibault fought back behind 12 kills from Goldschmit and 11 from junior Kelly Dooley, who collected six of those in the late stages of the match with the Hawks desperately trying to hang on.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Lazarides said. “We gave them a lot of points that they didn’t have to earn. They had some good digs and kept some balls alive, but we didn’t serve-receive very well, they didn’t serve-receiver very well. The big factor was our service errors.”
The lone exception to the serving problems was the second set, when Gibault racked up eight service aces out of 25 points. Four of those came from junior Bailey Lehmann.