The gym was loud, it was Althoff’s Senior Night and Belleville West was hoping to avoid any type of emotional volleyball display that might take the Maroons out of their game.
While there was enough emotion to fill three gyms and six matches, Belleville West rallied from behind twice Tuesday to outduel Althoff 32-30, 31-29 in one of the wildest matches in the history of the long city volleyball rivalry between the schools.
“The atmosphere was super-intense,” said Belleville West senior Kacie Kinnikin, whose team overcame an 18-12 deficit in the first set and plowed through the drama to emerge victorious. “Both crowds were really into the game and I’m just happy that we could all pull together as a team and calm down, come out with the win.”
West could have easily lost both sets in dramatic fashion, but on this night the Maroons (12-5) had a little more push at the end of both games than the Crusaders (9-6).
That’s how an Althoff-West match used to be — and how it should be.
Althoff coach Sara Dietrich
“That’s how an Althoff-West match used to be — and how it should be,” said Althoff coach Sara Dietrich, whose team has lost three straight matches to the Maroons after winning the previous 11 before that.
Belleville West junior Kaylee Hanger finished with 15 kills and 14 digs while teammate Katherine Koch added nine kills and 20 assists. Nikki Gaskill also came up big in the victory with five kills and six blocks, including a tip kill to win the first set.
“Both teams just kept swinging,” Hanger said. “That’s all you could do because you didn’t want to let up and give them an easy ball. You had to keep swinging, whether you come up with an error (or not). I think we just had to really push.”
Both teams played well both offensively and defensively with little separation for most of the night.
Althoff got 11 kills from Katie Wemhoener, five kills and six blocks from Emily Myatt, 16 digs from Katie Allard, five blocks from Leighten Kaiser and 23 assists from Louise Comerford.
“I think both teams did a great job of fighting off set points, match points and were playing composed,” Belleville West coach Lauren DeGirolamo said. “Luckily for us at the end we were able to get those two (points) in a row and get both sets, but really that match could have went either way tonight.”
There was no doubt about that.
Althoff had leads of 14-7 and 18-12 in the first set, only to watch the Maroons crawl out of their volleyball graves time after time. Hanger had eight of her 15 kills in the first set, including three straight near the end of the set to give the Maroons one-point leads each time.
Althoff’s Myatt had two big kills to help avert set point and a block by Kaiser tied it 27-27. With the set tied 30-30, Hanger and Gaskill had kills to end the marathon.
Both teams just kept swinging. That’s all you could do because you didn’t want to let up and give them an easy ball.
West junior Kaylee Hanger
“Nikki (Gaskill) was huge for us tonight,” Kinnikin said. “She came up with really big blocks at really, really critical times. That just made our momentum go up so high and really made us go and push to get those points to bounce back and get the lead.”
Althoff again jumped on top in the second set and led 10-5 before the Maroons began firing back. The Crusaders led 24-21 on a service ace by Wemhoener, but West refused to go away quietly.
Gaskill had a kill and Hanger had two aces among three straight service points to put the Maroons on top 25-24.
A kill by Comerford, who recently committed to Division I Miami (Ohio), tied it up again and two blocks by Kaiser knotted things at 27-27. A kill by Myatt put Althoff up 29-28, but a service error tied it up again and the Maroons got two service points by Abby Hobby to win it.
Hobbs served up an ace for the match point.
“We’ve worked so hard on coming out strong and finishing strong that there in the middle when we got a lead obviously we dipped down,” Dietrich said. “Now that’s what we have to work on, but I’m proud of my girls for bouncing back from last week, which was rough.
“It was a fun match. It sure was a battle.”
Not just that, but nerve-wracking for all involved.
“We knew that it was going to be a tough one to come in here on Senior Night, at (their) home with Althoff being a good team this year,” DeGirolamo said. “I didn’t expect both games to go plus-30, but it was back and forth all night. We kept fighting and that’s a good sign.”