Their emotions were up and down. Their defense struggled at times and their passing was off a bit early.
But when everything kicked in at once Wednesday night for the O’Fallon Panthers, they were a completely different volleyball team — and it showed in a 22-25, 25-23, 25-10 victory over the Althoff Crusaders.
“I’ve learned with girls that I don’t know what I’m going to get every game,” O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey said after her 23-5 squad won for the sixth time in its last seven matches. “The kids just didn’t come out to play until about the end of the first set. We were just trying to feed off of that, but even in the second set I thought we were still a little flat. They were serving us really tough and we were not responding.
“Not until we started to respond and put a little bit of pressure back on them did it become a good game. When we are in system, we are unstoppable. It’s just getting these kids to stay in system.”
It was all systems go for O’Fallon junior Elise Smith, who had 15 of her match-high 16 kills in the first two sets. That included nine in a second set that saw her spraying laser shots all over the court.
“Its nice when she is on because she is a tremendous hitter out there,” Massey said. “She did well in the (Belleville) East Tournament too, she had a couple really good games. She’s trying to find that spot to where she can just stay at that level consistently.”
When we are in system, we are unstoppable. It’s just getting these kids to stay in system.
O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey
Cassie Reno added seven kills for the Panthers and spoke about the direct correlation between good passing and O’Fallon finding the win column.
“Our passers really stepped up in the second game and our block picked up, so we were able to start at the net and finish in the back row,” said Reno, who was wearing her lucky American flag headband. “It always starts with the pass. We need the pass to be able to get the kills, but the big kills are what really pumps us up and gets us the momentum that we need.”
Althoff was led by Emily Myatt’s 10 kills.
Althoff had momentum after finishing off the first-set win, but never seemed to fully recover from there. The Crusaders (14-10), who have lost four of their last five matches, battled back to tie the second set 22-22 and crept to within 24-23 before losing the final point.
Things snowballed on the Crusaders in the third set thanks to long service runs by Jordan Reed and Lauren LePere that pushed O’Fallon’s lead to 17-7.
“It is frustrating,” Althoff coach Sara Dietrich said. “The same thing like last night, we just didn’t have that sense of urgency in the third set. We’re right there. Right there with Mater Dei and Mascoutah and (Belleville) West and all these 3A and 4A schools.
“It’s our mistakes, but it’s the other team putting that pressure on us. We have to get over that.”
Dietrich spoke with her team in the locker room for a lengthy period following the match.
“It was definitely beneficial,” she said. “There were tears and then there were laughs at the end. They realize we only have five matches before postseason and a whole week of practice, so they’re ready.”