After nearly 2 1/2 months of fighting it out for conference and tournament championships, metro-east volleyball teams are ready for the state playoffs.
Regional play begins Monday throughout the area, with regional championships on Thursday that set the stage for further advancement.
Here is a quick glance at the metro-east Class 3A and 4A playoffs:
Class 4A O’Fallon Regional
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Pick to win: Toss-up
Teams to watch: (2) O’Fallon (29-6) and (3) Belleville West (25-9)
Analysis: Belleville West and O’Fallon split two three-set matches, with West winning in the Southwestern Conference and O’Fallon winning at the Belleville East Metro Classic. Passing and defense will likely determine the outcome here since both teams have more than enough hitters and both have quality setters, with O’Fallon outside hitter Elise Smith always a big threat. Both teams have versatile players in Belleville West’s Kaylee Hanger and Katherine Koch and O’Fallon’s Mackenzie Koester and Cassie Reno. Both are regional championship worthy, but only one can advance.
Class 4A Alton Regional
Pick to win: (1) Edwardsville (28-6)
Teams to watch: (4) Quincy (17-12), (5) Springfield
Analysis: Edwardsville has been building this squad for three years, relying heavily on talented junior three-year starters like Rachel Pranger, Kate Martin, Rachel Verdun, Megan Woll and others. The Tigers are well coached, have more than enough firepower at the net and don’t get rattled easily, all key ingredients for a long playoff run. Quincy shared the Western Big 6 Conference title with Moline.
Class 3A Columbia Regional
Pick to win: (1) Columbia (33-0)
Teams to watch: (4) Freeburg (23-9); (6) Waterloo (21-8)
Analysis: With 10 seniors and incredible chemistry, it’s going to be tough to derail the Columbia Eagles early in the playoffs. Division I recruit Colene Hamilton joins Jordan Hausmann and Alyssa Yochum to give the Eagles a formidable attack and the setting is strong with Liz Fleming. Columbia has been pushed to three sets only twice all year, by O’Fallon and Althoff. Freeburg knows as much or more about Columbia than anyone and did play the Eagles tough twice this season, so keep an eye on the Midgets. Waterloo, which would face Freeburg in the semifinals with a first-round win over Cahokia, has lost twice to the Midgets this season but also beaten highly regarded Highland twice.
Class 3A Mater Dei Regional
Pick to win: Toss-up
Teams to watch: (2) Highland (29-4-1); (3) Mascoutah (25-8); (5) Mater Dei (17-14-2)
Analysis: Mascoutah advanced to the 3A state tournament last seasno and returns some key pieces from that team including Murray State recruit Katirah Johnson, Tieghan Morio and setter Kamrynn Voypick. Mascoutah won the Mississippi Valley Conference, splitting two matches with higher-seeded Highland this season including a three-set thriller Thursday. Highland has lost three of its last four matches and dropped both meetings against Waterloo this season. Mater Dei used to own the metro-east playoffs and also owns an area-leading seven state championships. While this Knights team isn’t as strong as past clubs and lost to both Mascoutah and Highland this season, they are playing at home, are led by Division I recruit Erica Hitpas and are never an easy out in the postseason.