The O'Fallon Panthers boys volleyball program has a new look and a new coach in Amy Sheehan. And their new style has been flawless thus far. The Panthers are 9-0 to open the 2018 season and have yet to be taken to a third set in any match.
A few days removed from a win over the Edwardsville Tigers in an early-season showdown, the Panthers got strong play from seniors Jake Baldus and Justin Hovick as they defeated Belleville West 25-20, 25-19 in a Southwestern Conference match April 3.
The Panthers then defeated Alton on April 5 in straight sets, 25-9, 25-16, before sweeping the Rockwood Tournament.
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Taking advantage of six service errors by the Maroons, O'Fallon took an early lead in the first set, then used a four-point service run by senior Bryce Backhus to put the game away. A kill by Hovick eventually clinched the opening game for the Panthers.
The Maroons' Tony Brooks began the second game with a four-point service run, but behind the play of senior Romell Williams, the Panthers chipped away and took control. Williams led the way with an early five-point service run. Junior Eric Toftmark clinched the win for O'Fallon with a kill up the middle of the court on match point.
"I'm pleased. We certainly have a lot of work to do. But this win tonight is one that we can continue to build upon," Sheehan said. "We did a much better job of serving than we did against Edwardsville, when we had 17 service errors.
"We wanted to get our middle (blocker) Jake Baldus more involved in the offense tonight, and we did that, and I thought Justin Hovick had a good night on the outside for us."
The former girls varsity coach at Triad, Sheehan is back coaching at the high school level for the first time in six years. Her son, Connor Sheehan, is a member of the Panthers' varsity roster as a sophomore.
"I have been coaching, just not at the high school level. I coach a boys club team, and I had been coaching a junior high boys team. Everybody has been great here at O'Fallon. It's nice to have a very supportive administration and athletic department," she said.
"I'm still working at Triad, and so we've had to move back the practice sessions each day. But when I get here, the boys are on the court and ready to go. Like I said, it's been an adjustment with the team learning a new system. But I like what I see..."
One thing Belleville West coach Austin Betz did not like seeing was the Maroons' service errors. West had five of its first seven service attempts either go into the net or long. The Maroons ended the night with 11 service errors.
"To serve 49 times and have 11 errors — that's not a very good percentage," Betz said. "If we cut those in half, it's a much closer match.
"Not too make excuses, but it's still early in the season, and we still have some work to do. The key is to keep working and improve as we go along."
The Panthers made short work of the Redbirds in a Southwestern Conference match-up at Alton.
OTHS had the serve in nearly two-thirds of the serves in the match and registered six service aces. The Panthers also had 25 kills in 45 attacks.
Hovick led the way with six kills, followed by Backhus and Williams (five), Toftmark (four), Baldus (three), and Sheehan (two).
Zach Herran, Hovick, Sheehan and Toftmark all had one block each.
Sheehan dished out 22 assists. Easton Gavin and Baldus also had an assist each.
In the tournament, OTHS posted wins over Fort Zumwalt East (St. Peters, Missouri), Metro-East Lutheran (Edwardsville), and Summit (Fenton, Missouri). The Panthers also defeated Affton (Missouri), twice.
"The boys played pretty well in the Rockwood Tourney," coach Sheehan said. "It is always nice going into a tourney, when you are not familiar with them as a team, and knowing that you have nothing to lose, such as a season ending match or conference championship match."
The Panthers opened tournament play on Saturday at 8:15 a.m. against Fort Zumwalt East, defeating the Lions 25-15, 25-13. O'Fallon had an assist for each one of its 17 kills. OTHS also recorded four aces and five blocks as a team. Fourteen of the assists went to Sheehan, with the other three courtesy of Hovick. Toftmark had three of the blocks with the other two going to Backhus and Sheehan. Kills were spread around, with Backhus as the leading attacker at five kills, followed by Hovick (four), Baldus and Sheehan (three), and David Supergan and Toftmark (one each).
Next up, at 10 a.m., were the Knights of Metro-East Lutheran, whom the Panthers dispatched 25-16, 25-14. Backhus had seven kills, followed by Hovick (five), Baldus (three), and Herran and Toftmark (one each). Sheehan had all 17 assists for OTHS. Williams had four of the Panthers' six service aces. Austin Ames and Hovick also each had an ace.
At 12:15 p.m., O'Fallon took on Affton for the first of what would be two matches in the tournment. In a pool play match, the Cougars would give OTHS its hardest competition of the day, though the Panthers still won in straight sets, 27-25, 26-24. Again, Sheehan had 17 assists. O'Fallon tallied 19 kills, led by Hovick, who had six. Also registering kills for OTHS were Backhus, Baldus and Toftmark (three each), and Sheehand and Williams (two apiece). But defense at the net was where O'Fallon shined, toalting eight blocks — four by Baldus, two by Sheehand and one each by Backhus and Hovick.
An hour later, OTHS would take the court against the home team, the Summit Falcons. O'Fallon cruised to victory, 25-14, 25-16. Williams had five kills, while Toftmark had four. Sheehan had 20 of the team's 21 assists; Gavin had the other. The game set up a rematch with Affton at 3:30 p.m.
"We played Affton earlier in the day and then played them again for the championship. They are a very good volleyball team," coach Sheehan said. "When we played them our first match in pool play, we were unfamiliar with their style of play. They do a lot of good things that our hitters have not seen this year. The boys recognized a lot of tendencies from them to improve their play for the championship match."
The second game of the day between the two schools was not as close as the first. O'Fallon took this one 25-14, 25-21. Affton attacked the net 62 times, but had just 15 kills. OTHS registered nine blocks, with four going to Backhus and three to Baldus.
"The boys got better this weekend by learning what other teams will be doing and communicating on our side of the court," Sheehan said.
The Panthers registered 29 kills in their 50 attacks in the championship game. Hovick was the team leader with 12; Backhus, Baldus and Williams all had five. Sheehan had 28 assists.