Three weeks of nonconference volleyball matches prepared Belleville West well for its Southwestern Conference opener in O’Fallon on Tuesday.
Decked out in brand-new uniforms, the Maroons outlasted the Panthers, who are ranked No. 2 in a poll of metro-east coaches, 25-22, 14-25, 27-25.
“It’s kind of a new season for us because it was our first conference game,” said West head coach Lauren DeGirolamo. “You kind of look at the schedule as a preseason, then a conference schedule. This was an awesome way to start that new season, plus we got new uniforms.”
Belleville West entered the match with a 9-5 record, but has now won five of its last six. O’Fallon (14-3) was similarly battle tested, having lost only to Edwardsville in the championship match of the Tiger Classic and to Mater Dei.
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But the Maroons were resilient. After a lop-sided loss in the second match, they twice built six-point leads in the third, only to lose them.
“We got our stuff handed to us in the second game. Nothing was going our way and their hitters were firing on all cylinders,” DeGirolamo said. “We were mentally strong enough to bounce back and forget that second game.”
The Maroons took a 10-4 lead on a service rally by junior Kaylee Hanger. O’Fallon chipped away until sophomore middle hitter Kenzee Simmers tied it at 15 with a kill.
The lead then changed hands seven times.
“That was really intense for us,” said West sophomore Katherine Koch. “We just knew we had to get those points back and learn from the mistakes we had made before.”
Hanger had a kill and O’Fallon gave away a point to a mishit to take West to match point, 24-23. But a serve into the net and a kill by Panther Imani Williamson to put O’Fallon one point away from the victory.
West scored the last three points behind serves by Kacie Kinnikin. Nikki Gaskill scored on a tip and Hanger put the set and match away with a kill.
Hanger had a match-high 14 kills, while Gaskill contributed nine kills and a block. Koch had a big night with eight kills, 21 assists and five aces. Kinnikin anchored the defense with nine digs.
For O’Fallon, Cassie Reno had 10 kills, Simmers had eight, and Williamson had seven. Alison Fournie had 22 assists.