Intent on building momentum for the IHSA post-season series, which begins May 23, the O’Fallon Panther volleyball team was marginally successful this past weekend, winning three of five matches as hosts of the 10-team Southwestern Illinois Varsity tournament.
Playing on their home court, the OTHS spikers took third place by virtue of wins over Oakville, Missouri; Francis Howell (Missouri); and Belleville West, surpassing the 20-victory mark in the process, now with an overall mark of 21-8-2.
“Our team showed some improvement in certain aspects of our overall play, but nagging inconsistencies in passing and maintaining focus still need improvement if we expect to advance deep into the IHSA post-season,” said O’Fallon high mentor Katelyn Hagarty.
The Panthers opened tourney play in the Panther Dome with a strong effort against Oakville. Led by their one-two punch of Luke Meidel and Gabe Norsigian, O’Fallon dominated the match at the net to win straight games 25-18, 25-21. Meidel, who currently ranks third in kills in the St. Louis metropolitan area with a season total of 305, was again an omnipresent force, repeatedly blasting winners into the Oakville court. The Missourians attempted to stop Meidel’s scoring volleys, but the tactic opened more chances for Norsigian and the rest of the OTHS squad, allowing the Panthers to maintain a solid advantage, which they carried through the two-game sweep. O’Fallon’s dynamic duo sustained their offensive firepower throughout the two-day tourney with both earning All-Tournament honors.
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O’Fallon was derailed in their second tourney match, losing in a third and deciding game to St. Mary’s. The Panthers gained an initial advantage with a 25-19 win, but St. Mary’s overcame early scoring problems in game two, rallying to knot the match with a 25-20 triumph. A decided height advantage in the middle-hitter position proved the difference as the St. Mary’s team set up their top scorer who also caused difficulties with his prowess as a blocker.
“We hope to take some positives out of the tournament, one being the importance of successful blocking,” Hagarty said. “It made the difference in the St. Mary’s game and also when we faced Oak Forest in our last tournament match.”
Before facing the Chicago power, the Panthers rebounded with a vengeance from the St. Mary’s defeat, roaring past Francis Howell and Belleville West — both victories coming in straight games. The win over Belleville West was especially sweet since the two schools had faced off in conference play just two days earlier.
“Our kids played well against West,” Hagarty said. “We were much more aggressive at the net and placed the ball well from the service line. Beating a solid team twice in the span of two days is never an easy task, but our team did it.”
Oak Forest proved a different story. Taking a page out of St. Mary’s playbook, the Chicago squad used their athleticism to score early and often on blocks. After drubbing the Panthers 25-16 in game one, the local spikers returned the favor with an impressive 25-14 win to send the match into a third game tie-breaker. An early service run by Oak Forest was the difference in game three. Falling behind early, the Panthers were unable to rally, losing 15-5.
The O’Fallon spikers will wrap up their 2017 regular season schedule this week with matches against East St. Louis, Senior Night against Granite City and their Southwestern Conference finale next Wednesday, May 17 against Belleville East.
IHSA tournament play will start May 23 when the Panthers will play the winner of East St. Louis versus Waterloo Gibault play-in game at 5:30 on the Belleville East court.