Things didn’t start well in this past week’s court action but improved considerably thanks to a solid performance in the tough Lafayette Invitational.
Hoping to avenge an early season loss to Edwardsville High School and tie the Tigers atop the Southwestern Conference standings, the Panthers absorbed a narrow 25-22, 26-24 loss to start the week.
Wins over Chicago Marist and a 3-1-1 effort at Lafayette followed the frustrating defeat and, hopefully, established some momentum as the local spikers prepare to host their own tournament this weekend.
The Edwardsville match was a dogfight from beginning to end with the Panthers scrambling to gain an advantage that never materialized. In the second game, Edwardsville used superior play at the net to gain a 24-19 lead, but Panther star Luke Meidel stepped to the service line and nearly pulled out a miraculous comeback. The OTHS senior served five consecutive winners to knot the score at 24-24 before Edwardsville nailed down the final two points and the team victory.
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“We had chances, but our passing was not great,” OTHS coach Kaitlyn Hagarty said. “We gave them too many opportunities, and I don’t think we played as hard as we could have at times. Even with those negatives, our team came roaring back in game two and had a chance to send the match into a third game. We learned some lessons from the match that we carried into our next match against Chicago Marist and into tournament play last weekend.”
The lessons about intensity and consistency were evident when the Panthers faced state power Chicago Marist in their next court action. The passing woes disappeared and a much more solid defensive effort allowed the Panthers the emerge from the match with a 3-game victory. Behind the scoring of Meidel and Gabe Norsigian, the OTHS squad blasted their way to a 25-19 win in game one. Marist responded with a 25-16 victory to set up the rubber game. In the finale, neither team could establish a scoring run, but incrementally O’Fallon had enough firepower to pull out a 25-23 win.
Buoyed by their sterling performance against Marist, the OTHS squad opened the Lafayette tournament with a straight game victory over Lindbergh but stumbled to a tie with Fort Zumwalt South in round two.
“The match against Zumwalt South is one that we should have won,” Hagarty said. “After playing so well against Marist and Lindbergh, we just didn’t show the intensity and focus we needed to secure the win.”
Things changed perceptibly after that even though the Panthers ended up on the short end of their encounter with Lafayette. After dropping the first game 25-20, the Panthers spikers pushed Lafayette to the limit before succumbing 28-26.
“Even though we weren’t able to knock them (Lafayette) off, I was extremely proud of the way our team played,” said Hagarty. “Lafayette eventually won the tournament, but we played about as well as we had against Marist.”
The Panthers rode the wave of improved play to the completion of the tournament, smashing their way victories over Belleville East and Francis Howell Central.
“Francis Howell may have been the most satisfying match of the tournament because they had beaten us in the Zumwalt South tourney,” explained Hagarty. “On our prom night, we lost the second game by 10 points, so it would have been easy for our kids to pack it in and head back to O’Fallon. Instead, everyone turned in one of their best efforts of the weekend, allowing us to win the deciding game 25-21.”
The Panthers will try to maintain their effort and focus this weekend with their own invitational tournament. O’Fallon will kick off competition this Friday with a match against Oakville at 5 p.m. and a second test against Lutheran South at 7 p.m.