O'Fallon Progress

OTHS girls succeed in IHSA state series bids

Emily Marrs led the way for O’Fallon during the state golf tournament with a 76.
Emily Marrs led the way for O’Fallon during the state golf tournament with a 76. News-Democrat file photo

The O’Fallon Township High School girls fall sport teams grabbed the headlines this past week with superlative efforts in Illinois High School Association state series competitions as well as regular season challenges.

The girls’ golf team and the girls’ tennis squad led the charge with the Lady Panther golfers wrapping up an outstanding fall campaign with a 10th place finish in the state finals, while the OTHS netters advanced four players into this weekend’s state tournament in Chicago.

Closer to home, the Panther girls volleyball team continued to rack up impressive wins by blasting their way to the OTHS Invitational championship, defeating powerful Chicago Marist in a nail-biting title tilt.

Lady Panthers golf finishes 10th in state finals

Last fall, flying under the radar with a sophomore-dominated lineup, the O’Fallon girls’ golf squad surprised many with a 12th place finish in the state tournament. The impressive ending to the 2016 season was a precursor of even better things to come for the Lady Panthers this fall as they dominated area golf courses in winning 11 consecutive tournament championships, including the Southwestern Conference tournament.

This past week, the OTHS squad faced off against the best golfers in the state in the IHSA finals hosted by Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin and played at the Hickory Point course in Decatur. The Panthers took an incremental step forward when the final results were tallied, maintaining their 10th place position in round one to finish 10th overall at the conclusion of the 36-hole tournament.

Benefiting from their previous state tournament appearance, the Lady Panthers did not fold under the pressure on the first day of competition, shooting a collective 324. Emily Marrs led the way for O’Fallon with a 76, followed closely by Natalie Meinkoth, who posted a 78. Alyssa McMinn (81) and Brooke Boatman (89) contributed to the OTHS total, which was 26 strokes off the pace set by front-runners Wheaton-Warrenville South.

Battling windy conditions on day two, the OTHS girls were able to fend off challengers to their top 10 position. Natalie Meinkoth paced the Panthers in the second round with a 79. Meinkoth’s combined score of 157 earned her the top O’Fallon score of the tournament and 35th place overall. Emily Marrs shot an 82 to complete the tourney at 158 and a tie for 39th. Alyssa McMinn (167) and Brooke Boatman (170) closed the book for O’Fallon on a record-breaking season that catapulted the team into the distinction of being the best girls’ golf squad ever produced by O’Fallon Township.

“The girls played outstanding golf,” said O’Fallon head coach Chris Eddy. “They won all 11 in-season tournaments before finishing second to Galesburg in the sectional. Our players produced big wins throughout the season including defeating St. Joseph’s Academy, who won the Missouri large school state title, in the River Challenge. Our girls continued to improve and put forth a great effort every time they stepped onto a course. We will return our top six for next season and look to continue where we left off this year.”

Lady Panther netters finish second in team standings

While the golfers were completing their state run, the Lady Panther tennis team was just getting post-season play started in the IHSA sectional tournament hosted by Belleville East. Coach Erin Thoman’s squad had their work cut out for them as they faced off against their Southwestern Conference foes for the second time in as many weeks. The OTHS girls did not have enough firepower to overtake powerful Edwardsville for the team title; however, the Panthers turned in a gritty performance to finish second in the team standings. Edwardsville finished the tourney with 33 team points to O’Fallon’s 23. Belleville East finished third with 18 points.

The OTHS scoring came from a strong effort by their singles competitors and solid showing from their freshmen doubles team. Seniors Mackenzie Shelton and Katie Halwachs battled through the preliminary rounds to advance into the finals, Shelton playing for the No. 1 singles title against Edwardsville’s Natalie Karibian and Halwachs facing the Tigers’ Abby Cimarolli. Karibian took control of the title match early to defeat the Panther netter 6-1, 6-1. Katie Halwachs was able to turn the tables on her Edwardsville opponent, however, to win the third place match. Shelton’s second-place finish and Halwachs’ third place guaranteed the OTHS seniors a trip to the state meet.

Playing in their first high school sectional tournament, freshmen Miley Brunner and Kate Macaluso showed little signs of nervousness in the opening rounds, which allowed them to advance into semi-final action. A pair of losses down the stretch resulted in a fourth place finish for the ninth-grade duo, but the effort was enough to secure a place in the state tourney field this weekend.

Volleyball team wins Autumn Classic

Still involved in regular season action, the OTHS girls’ volleyball team made a major statement over the past weekend by winning their own O’Fallon Autumn Classic. After sweeping past Pinckneyville and Salem in straight games on Friday evening, the Panther spikers stepped it up a notch to earn hard-fought victories — a three-game marathon over Champaign Central in the semifinals and a razor thin win over Chicago Marist in the tournament championship — to improve their season record to an impressive 28-5 as they prepared for the final two regular season contests of 2016 this week.

The Lady Panthers parlayed their versatile attack at the net with stellar defensive play to cruise past Pinckneyville in the tourney opener 25-16, 25-7. They duplicated their dominating effort against the Salem Wildcats to win consecutive games 25-11 and 25-6.

Saturday’s matches tested the Lady Panthers’ resolve beginning with Champaign Central. A late scoring flurry by O’Fallon gave the local spikers a 25-20 win in game one, but Central stopped the OTHS run with a 25-22 victory in game two. The tie-breaker saw several early lead changes before the Panthers took control at the midway point with kills provided by Cassie Reno and Elise Smith. The momentum swing allowed O’Fallon to advance with a 15-8 victory.

Facing Chicago power Marist in the tourney finale, Coach Melissa Massey’s squad withstood several challenges to claim the championship crown. Both games featured scintillating runs that produced lead changes with nearly every service opportunity. Ultimately, the Lady Panthers prevailed — the victory fueled by O’Fallon’s versatile offensive front line of Imani Williamson, Cassie Reno, Elise Smith and Mackenzie Koesterer. Each of O’Fallon’s four top guns was responsible for momentum-swinging kills or blocks as the games progressed. O’Fallon emerged with a 25-23 win in game one and took the title with a 27-25 victory in the second game.

“Our team was focused and played very well under pressure,” Massey said. “We had everyone step up at one time or another during the tournament and give us an emotional boost. Our defense, overall, was outstanding — especially when facing Central and Marist on Saturday. Hopefully, our level of play will remain at a high level when we host the regional tournament next week.”

Regional action in the Panther Dome will begin with a preliminary round match on Monday pitting Collinsville and Granite City. The winner of the match will face the host Lady Panthers at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The regional championship will be played at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27.