High School Sports

Althoff wins early battle; Central Cougars have new coach

In what could be a preview of a Class 2A volleyball playoff matchup later this season, Althoff took down Gibault in two sets on Tuesday.

The teams could be on a collision course for the postseason depending on how things shake out with the pairings and seeds.

Althoff is ranked first in the Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Poll while Gibault, which suffered its first loss and fell to 6-1, is No. 2.

“It was a good early test for both teams,” Althoff coach Sara Dietrich said. “In my opinion it wasn’t the prettiest of games We served pretty tough, which got them out of system a lot, but there were some long rallies which went our way, too.

“They (Gibault) have so much potential and they’re already a good team. We just served well and got them out of system a little bit.”

Althoff senior Emily Myatt led the way with six kills while Addie Burris had five. Junior Elise Comerford and freshman Karinna Gall contributed four kills each, with Comerford dealing out 21 assists and Gall adding four blocks.

The 6-foot-1 Gall is transitioning to varsity volleyball, but already is making an impact according to Dietrich.

“She’s so modest,” Dietrich said. “I keep telling her ‘We’re going to get you real tough out on that floor.’ She has so much more potential from where she’s at right now coming in as a freshman.”

Myatt provides experience and a solid threat at the net, while the left-handed Comerford can be a weapon no matter where she lines up on the court.

“She’s a very versatile player,” Dietrich said. “Not only can she set, we feel comfortable setting her and attacking. She’s the package, she can do it all. She has a great serve and if we need to mix it up with throwing another setter, we can do that too.”

The Crusaders are facing another tough opponent Thursday when they play host to the Mascoutah Indians.

Familiar face leading Central Cougars

She played at Central and has been a junior varsity coach for the Cougars, but now Crissy Toennies is in charge as head coach of the varsity.

Toennies follows longtime coach Jim Cook, who resigned after last season after leading the Cougars to three state championships (1996, 2005, 2007) and eight trips to state. Cook had been the Central coach since 1995.

“I’ve never really gotten out of the program,” said Toennies, whose team is off to a 2-1 start. “I’ve coached coached many years at the junior high level (in Albers), but it was a good time in my life now as far as family and career that I could give myself the time and the energy to help run the program.

“It’s been great. We’ve had our ups and down this season, but it’s been fun working with the girls and taking on the challenges of being the head coach.”

Cook is still doing some scouting for Toennies, which she appreciates.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach with Coach Cook and see what it takes to be a winning program,” Toennies said.

The Cougars aren’t deep in experience with one senior starter and two seniors in the program. Junior outside hitter Kim Hall is a versatile six-rotation player in her third year on the varsity.

Abbie Horstmann and Carson Newkirk also picked up some varsity experience last season.

“Our goal is to establish ourselves as a strong team even though we’re young,” Toennies said. “We’ve put a lot of hard work in and have a lot of good athletes on the team. Our biggest challenge right now is we’re young and we haven’t played a lot together on the floor.”

Things came together well on Tuesday as the Cougars recorded a 25-23, 16-25, 25-18 Cahokia Conference victory over Red Bud.

“Our conference is tough,” said Toennies, noting league rival Columbia is 8-0 and Freeburg is 6-2 and coming off a victory over 4A Belleville West. “That was a good competition, high-level play that we needed to see.”

Roll Tide

University of Alabama freshman Hayley McSparin, a former Highland Bulldogs standout, has started four of five matches for the 4-1 Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-2 middle blocker ranks fifth on the team with 38 kills and third with 10 blocks.

Crossroads Classic

The next volleyball mega-tournament to hit the region is the Effingham Nike Crossroads Classic on Friday and Saturday. Perennial Illinois powerhouse Wheaton St. Francis is the three-time defending champion while Edwardsville (2011) and Althoff (2008) are the last metro-east teams to win titles at the prestigious event.

The 24-team tourney includes squads from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. Metro-east teams entered this season include Althoff, Edwardsville and Central. Pool play begins Friday, with the gold flight championship set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Wheaton St. Francis has won four straight state titles and 12 since 1988 under legendary coach Peg Kopec, who retired after the 2015 season. In 40 seasons, Kopec guided her teams to a 1,238-229-2 record.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders