If dedicated off-season preparation and successful club play are any indicators, the 2016 OTHS girls’ volleyball team could live up to their advanced billing and approach the stellar season they produced in 2015. The Lady Panthers ended last fall’s campaign with a 32-6 overall record, bowing out of the IHSA play-offs in the sectional championship match against Normal Community.
Significant graduation losses from that squad include Renee Moeller (libero), Anna Strake (middle hitter) and Becca Althoff (defensive specialist). However, veteran OTHS coach Melissa Massey believes that her returning players have “a ton of potential” and should be able to pick up the gauntlet and continue O’Fallon’s on-court success.
“We will have a core group of six seniors who have developed a close knot bond,” Massey said. “I couldn’t ask for a better dynamic.”
Four of the six seniors were starters last fall. Mackenzie Koester (right side setter), Ali Fournie (setter), Imani Williamson (outside hitter) and Cassie Reno (middle hitter) will anchor the OTHS attack. Other senior contributors include Jillian Gasser (right side hitter) and Abby Wangerin (right side hitter). Junior Elise Smith, a 3-year starter, will complete the Lady Panther line-up, giving Massey plenty of options .
The holes in the OTHS arsenal created by the three graduation losses will be filled by two sophomores – Kenzee Simmers as a middle-hitter and Lauren LePere (libero).
Junior Kaity Mueller will step into the defensive specialist role after having played a variety of positions last year at the varsity level.
“I’m very confident that are new starters will make a positive impact,” Massey explained. “The two sophomores have moved into the varsity slots because they have earned their positions through their off-season work and summer play. [Kaity] Mueller has proven her importance to the team with her effort last fall. She was phenomenal in every position she played. The experience of our four seniors, the domination at the net that Elise Smith has demonstrated over three varsity seasons, and our sophomore starters give us a potent attack, one that opposing teams will have battle in order to defeat us.”
“We expect a good season, but I warned our players that because of the success we have had over the last several years, they will bring out the best in our opponents,” Massey said. “Our girls know that we will have big targets on our backs because of our 32-6 mark last year.”
Massey’s warning to her squad was emphasized in their final summer warm-up when the Lady Panthers traveled to Arkansas to compete in a tournament that was composed of Arkansas state champions in each of the state’s classifications.
“We were matched up against the Class 1A champions in the first round,” Massey explained. “Coming from a small school program, I think our girls thought we would be able to advance without maximum effort. The Arkansas squad came out all fired up, and we were forced into a third game to collect the win.”
The OTHS girls went on to capture the Arkansas tournament championship – a harbinger, Massey hopes, of things to come as the 2016 campaign unfolds.
The Southwestern conference will once again provide stiff competition with Edwardsville, Belleville East and Belleville West – a long with the Lady Panthers – figuring to battle for league supremacy. The O’Fallon girls were scheduled to open their 2016 season this evening (Thursday) with a home match against Waterloo. Next Thursday, September 1st, the travel to Salem. They will face their first major challenge September 2 and 3 when they compete in the Edwardsville tournament. The only significant scheduling change is the departure from the Highland tournament field in order to play in the Belleville East Invitational.
“We expect to have a good season,” Massey said. “We have the experience, skill and senior leadership necessary to compete at the highest level. I know our girls are eager to get things rolling.”