With the the high school volleyball playoffs set to begin on Monday, the top four teams in the metro-east went head-to-head this week with some intriguing results.
These were high intensity matches featuring playoff atmospheres and plenty of talent on the floor. Both lasted through three emotional sets and were played in front of large and loud crowds.
The Southwestern Conference championship was at stake when Edwardsville traveled to Belleville West on Tuesday, while two teams from off tournament championships — Columbia and O’Fallon — went head to head on Monday.
It took a while for Class 3A Columbia to gain traction against Class 4A O’Fallon on Monday while facing the Panthers on their senior night, but the Eagles were up to the challenge. They added a dominant two-set win over Collinsville a day later to close out the regular season 33-0, then overtook Edwardsville for the top spot in the new BND Large-School Volleyball Rankings.
Columbia got a season-high 22 kills from Division I Central Arkansas sand volleyball recruit Colene Hamilton and 11 more kills from Jordan Hausmann in a three-set win.
“I think losing that first set helped us bring back the fire,” Hamilton said. “We play good teams, but it’s good losing so you can have that momentum coming back. You want to fight for it.”
Both teams put up a struggle, but the Eagles rebounded to win the final two sets and the match.
“It’s tough,” said O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey, whose team is 29-6. “I know it’s hard for my seniors, they’re obviously very disappointed. But they’re great kids and I have full confidence that they’ll bounce back from this.”
Edwardsville (25-4) completed a 7-0 run through the Southwestern Conference with a three-set win over Belleville West on Tuesday, winning the final two sets after dropping the first.
Juniors Rachel Pranger and Kate Martin combined for 36 kills while Rachel Verdun dealt out 42 assists in the win. The Tigers had to work extra hard to escape a pesky and aggressive Maroons defense playing at home on senior night.
“The first game they just took care of the ball better than we did, they were playing clean,” Edwardsville coach Jami Parker said of the Maroons, who were also succcesful on numerous line shots. “They played some tremendous defense. They had a lot of balls up, especially in that third game. We struggled to get a ball (put) away.”
Edwardsville freshman Maria Smith showed why she may be making an impact in the conference for three more years, collecting four of her seven kills in the decisive third set.
“Maria had some huge kills for us,” Parker said of her 5-foot-9 outside hitter. “That was a freshman stepping into a big match and putting away some balls. I don’t know that she had more than one error tonight. That’s a tough game for a freshman to step into right away and play that well, so she did a great job.”
New Athens ready for a run?
After finishing fourth at the 2013 Class A state tourney and reaching the super-sectional in 2014, the New Athens Yellow Jackets failed to bring home any playoff hardware last season.
They could be ready for another deep playoff run after the Jackets moved to 19-11 by going 10-1 in their last 11 matches and winning the Sparta Tournament.
Coach Kyla Patton said developing chemistry and teamwork after the loss of so many seniors to graduation last spring too more than a bit of time.
“I feel like this team, more than any other team, is like a puzzle,” Patton said. “They honestly are equal in their own way, but great. When they click together, good things happen. Winning 10 of the last 11 games has caught them on fire and encouraged them, made them believers.”
Patton said junior Taylor Junge and freshman setter-hitter Danika White, the sister of former New Athens star Denae White, are among the big reasons for the late-season surge. Denae White is a sophomore at Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey.
“It’s kind of nice to see how far the older girls that came before have pushed these girls,” Patton said. “Other than Taylor, there wasn’t a lot of varsity playing time on my court this year. Most of my hitters and our two setters have got the same numbers, so everybody has been playing well together.
“The chemistry has been a really important ingredient for this team and they’ve made progress.”
New Athens has a balanced attack with five players boasting 94 or more kills. They include junior Leah Kiefer (111), junior Brooke Jansen (103), senior Jordan Drake (100), White (98) and Junge (94).
Jansen leads the team with 46 service aces and averages 3.94 assists, while White averages 3.28 assists and has a team-high 80 blocks. Junior Joelli Wahlig is the defensive whiz with a team-high 414 digs and Junge has 316.
Ex-Tiger is honored
Former Edwardsville Tigers standout Katie Shashack was honored recently as one of two Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Athletes of the Month.
Shashack, a junior libero, and Katie Johnson had 14 digs each Saturday in the Cougars’ Ohio Valley Conference victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Shashack’s 351 digs (4.62 per game) lead the Cougars (13-6) and she ranks third on the squad with 98 assists.