Getting another crack at O’Fallon so soon after a semifinal loss Saturday at the Edwardsville Tiger Classic was exactly what the Mater Dei Knights needed.
“We were definitely a lot more pumped up about it and we just really wanted revenge,” said Mater Dei senior Erica Hitpas, a Western Illinois University recruit who helped inspire the 25-17, 25-22 win Tuesday by scoring 12 service points on 16 serves with four aces and no errors. “Even from last year, losing to them in (the Class 4A) sectionals, it just felt so much different. We came out with a lot of fire.”
Mater Dei (5-5-2) lost to O’Fallon (6-2) in three sets at the Tiger Classic, but this time handled the Panthers in rapid fashion. Mater Dei also got seven kills and four blocks from senior Megan Deimeke and used precision passing and ball control to force the Panthers out of their game.
“I did not want to play them just because of that,” O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey when said about the quick turnaround from the tournament match. “I would like to have seen a team that we had no emotion to but then again, it’s still a good test for the kids.
“You’ve got to bring it no matter who, when ... no matter how many times you play a team. It’s a total mental situation for us.”
We were definitely a lot more pumped up about it and we just really wanted revenge. Even from last year, losing to them in (the Class 4A) sectionals, it just felt so much different. We came out with a lot of fire.
Mater Dei senior Erica Hitpas
Before losing twice to O’Fallon in two sets last season, the Knights hadn’t lost to the Panthers since 2008. O’Fallon’s only other loss this season was to Edwardsville in the championship match of the Tiger Classic.
“The team you saw tonight is the team that I’ve been waiting to see,” Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said. “We finally had some fight in us and we didn’t back down. Obviously O’Fallon’s a great squad, we couldn’t take a set from them last year. So when we took one the other day and then floundered, let them take it to us after that ... that was one of the things we talked about the other day in practice.
“It’s not OK to back down. It’s not OK to let somebody hit you in the face and not hit back. Tonight we hit back.”
Elise Smith and Cassie Reno each had four kills for O’Fallon.
Deimeke was a force at the net all night and got plenty of help from Mikaela Kues, Jena Ratermann and Rylie Johnson.
It’s not OK to back down. It’s not OK to let somebody hit you in the face and not hit back. Tonight we hit back.
Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers
Hitpas was a big part of the Knights’ ball control, going a perfect 13-for-13 on serve receive and adding six digs.
“I don’t know, I was kind of feeling it tonight,” she said. “I just knew that you had to get a pass to get a hit to get a kill to win. That’s my mentality.”
“Erica Hitpas is a great athlete,” Rakers said. “When she’s focused, she’s awfully tough. She’s a wonderful player to have on your team and somebody I wouldn’t want to see on the other side.”
O’Fallon battled hard and stayed close throughout most of the match. The Panthers got within 18-16 in the first set before the Knights pull away as a pair of kills by Ratermann near the end loomed large.
The Panthers played much better in the second set and jumped out to an 8-3 lead before a five-point service run by Hitpas helped swing momentum around. Johnson had a kill and a block to help fuel the comeback.
O’Fallon was up 19-18 before the Knights again gained control on a kill by Deimeke and service ace by Hitpas. A kill by Abby Hellmann closed out the match.
“They were controlling the ball in their court,” Massey said. “They were picking on some of our passers that were struggling tonight. They were smart, they served to us really tough. We just got our of system from the get-go and never could catch up.”