Now 24-0 for the first time in school history, the Columbia Eagles volleyball team is extremely fun to watch — and extremely hard on the opposition.
Columbia completed a 5-0 run this weekend to win its first Belleville East Metro Classic championship, knocking off St. Louis power Nerinx Hall 25-12, 25-19 in the title match.
Not only had the Eagles never played for a championship before at Belleville East, they had never been out of the bronze flight (bottom division) on Saturday.
“It’s been like a curse for the past couple years,” Columbia senior Alyssa Yochum said. “We never really won our pool play sets (before), so when we won yesterday it just kind of brought a lot of energy. It was something that we haven’t really done, so it was awesome.”
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Hamilton agreed as the Eagles grabbed the championship at a tournament that featured most of the top teams in the metro-east and a few from St. Louis and central Illinois.
It just proves that we’re a lot stronger than what people think. I don’t think people expect this out of us. It’s an awesome feeling.
Columbia senior Colene Hamilton
“It just proves that we’re a lot stronger than what people think,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think people expect this out of us. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Columbia senior outside hitter Colene Hamilton was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player after hammering out 13 kills against Nerinx Hall. Jordan Hausmann added seven kills for the Eagles and Yochum had six, with setter Liz Fleming contributing 23 assists.
“We’ve always been in the bronze bracket here,” said Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf, whose team was 8-7 in previous matches at East over the last three years including a bronze division championship win last year over Nerinx Hall. “We had never won a pool play game, we were 0-6 (on Fridays). So it was worth it to be 0-6 all those years to come back and win this year. It’s great.
“I think the girls got pushed a lot this weekend and they stepped up to everything that a coach could possibly ask from them. I always tell them the only way were going to keep getting better and getting ready for the postseason is if we are pushed.”
Nerinx Hall (23-5) didn’t do much pushing during Columbia’s dominant first-set win with Hamilton and Yochum combining for 10 kills, including six by Hamilton.
But the Markers regrouped and held a brief lead in the second set, which was tied at 15-15 before the Eagles put things away.
Offensively it’s hard to shut us down just because there are so many different places you can go. You can’t just key on one player, so it’s really hard to defend against us.
Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf
Call it team chemistry with 10 extremely tight seniors, momentum or simply Eagles volleyball magic, but whatever they are doing is working. Columbia has been to three sets only once in 24 matches in an early-season win over Althoff.
“This team is extremely consistent in all areas,” Landgraf said. “From passing to serving to blocking. I know that we don’t clean block a lot of balls, but we get our hands on a lot of balls and that helps our defense.
“Offensively it’s hard to shut us down just because there are so many different places you can go. You can’t just key on one player, so it’s really hard to defend against us.”
Hausmann and Yochum were also dominant at the net, with strong serving by Kelly Metter.
Nerinx Hall got five kills each from Gretchen Graf and Lizzie Hagerty.
Nerinx Hall survived a three-way tie in its pool with Althoff and Mascoutah to advance to the championship match. All three teams beat each other, so the next tiebreaker was set wins. After beating Mascoutah earlier Saturday, Althoff needed to win only one set against Nerinx Hall to reach the title match, but lost to the Markers in two sets.
Althoff’s fourth-place finish was its best at the tourney in 10 years and came despite being a low seed.
“Up until that match we had been playing just awesome,” said Althoff coach Sara Dietrich, whose team won its first three tourney matches before losing to Nerinx Hall and Ursuline. “I didn’t tell the girls, but I knew going into it that we needed one set and that was it.
“We played really good defense, were serving tough and passing well. Nerinx outplayed us on defense.”
Ursuline defeated Althoff 25-20, 25-21 in the third-place match while Cor Jesu needed three sets to edge Mascoutah for fifth place, winning 27-25, 16-25, 25-19.
O’Fallon claimed seventh place with a 25-14, 25-23 victory over Normal and Belleville West knocked off Mater Dei 25-22, 25-20 in the ninth-place match.
Also making the all-tournament team were Graf (Nerinx Hall), O’Fallon’s Imani Williamson, Belleville West’s Katherine Koch, Emily Myatt from Althoff, Normal’s Rachel McGuire and Cor Jesu’s Megan Cantwell.