The Granite City Class 4A Regional volleyball championship match was marked with long scoring runs and wide turns of momentum, but the O'Fallon Panthers did their best to prevent emotion from becoming a factor in what coach Melissa Massey called a “dogfight.”
After coughing up an eight-point lead to Edwardsville in a first-set loss, the Panthers rallied to win their fourth straight regional championship, 18-25, 25-17, 26-24.
"It seems like every regional championship we're in is like a crazy, dramatic game, but we always seem to pull through," said O'Fallon senior Renae Moeller. "We just know how to fight back, keep our heads level and maintain our composure."
O'Fallon (31-5) advances to a sectional semifinal against Mater Dei (30-7) at Alton High School Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. .The winner of that match will face either Bloomington (29-7) or Normal (27-9) at the Springfield Sectional next Thursday.
Never miss a local story.
O'Fallon (31-5) advances to a sectional semifinal at Alton High School Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. . It will face Mater Dei, a two-set winner over Belleville West in the championship game of the Maroons' own regional Thursday night.
The winner of that match will face either Bloomington (29-7) or Normal (27-9) at the Springfield Sectional next Thursday.
The Panthers defeated Mater Dei in early September, but haven't seen the 30-7 Knights since.
Each post-season round becomes progressively more difficult, said Massey, but the Panthers showed her some resiliency in their regional win.
"We talk about being mentally tough athletes all the time," said Massey. "Athletically we are a very good team, but with high school girls you just have to get them to that spot where they believe. This is the best time for us to be peaking in that way.”
We talk about being mentally tough athletes all the time ... This is the best time for us to be peaking in that way.
Melissa Massey, O’Fallon volleyball coach
Edwardsville, which had won seven regional championships in the last eight years, saw another successful season end at 25-11.
"I thought we had the momentum after coming back in the first game, but you have to give O'Fallon a lot of credit for battling back," said Tigers' coach Jami Parker.
Early in the decisive third set, Edwardsville rallied ahead 6-2 on four straight service points by sophomore Megan Woll. But O'Fallon chipped away steadily before a kill by outside hitter Imani Williamson and a mishit tip on the Tigers’ side tied the match at 9-9.
From there the teams traded leads six times before a five-point run put Edwardsville on top 21-19. Sydney Wright and Corrine Timmermann had kills in support of Kate Martin, who gave the Tigers the advantage from the service line.
O'Fallon tied it for the last time at 24 on a serve-receive error with Moeller at the line and won it on consecutive kills by Elise Smith.
The Panthers seemed to gain momentum behind Moeller and Becca Althoff, who combined for 21 service points in the match. Althoff served three aces while Moeller served key four-point runs in each the second and third sets.
"For serving, I just try to make it as aggresive as possible because it's the first opportunity for a point," said Moeller. "My team backed me up for every serve. We have great defense and I think that's what helped us with our runs."
Elise Smith led O'Fallon with 12 kills, Williamson had 10 and Mackenzie Koester had nine. Setter Ali Fournie had 33 assists and Moeller contributed 17 digs from a solid Panther back court.
"We had to adjust some blocking issues in that first game," Massey said of her team's defense. "Our defense had not no idea where to go, so we made some adjustments. The girls responded well in the back court."
Edwardsville was led by Rachel Pranger’s 14 kills. Annie Ellis had nine.