The only discernible difference between the O’Fallon and Belleville West volleyball teams on Tuesday night was the final six points of the match.
O’Fallon used a six-point run, overcoming a 20-19 deficit to win the third set 25-20 and defeat the Belleville West Maroons 20-25, 25-20, 25-20 to claim the Class 4A O’Fallon Regional championship.
“When your season’s on the line, I think all these girls go into that do-or-die mode and that’s kind of what they did,” said O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey, whose 30-6 squad will face Southwestern Conference rival and league champ Edwardsville (30-6) in a 7 p.m. sectional semifinal match Tuesday at Belleville West. “We talked about that, you don’t have a choice. The only choice is to produce right now and they responded well to that.”
They certainly did.
After dropping the first set 25-20 to Belleville West, the Panthers rallied for a 25-20 victory in the second set. O’Fallon trailed 8-3 in the third set when Massey burned a quick timeout and fell behind 13-11 before grabbing a 19-17 advantage.
West (26-10) kicked it in at that point, using three straight O’Fallon errors to take a 20-19 lead.
A kill by O’Fallon’s Elise Smith began the final 6-0 run and Smith served each of the next five points, including an ace at 24-20. McKendree University recruit Mackenzie Koester had four kills in the third set while Cassie Reno had two kills during the final run, including the match-clincher to set off a celebration that quickly included the O’Fallon Gold Rush student section.
“For (Elise) to do that with the game on the line I was so proud of her,” Massey said of Smith’s powerful serving that kept the Maroons out of rhythm. “Mackenzie just played out of her head tonight. She played so great.”
Koester talked about the feeling after the Panthers dropped the first set of the night knowing their season was on the line.
“It was hard, but we knew we had to keep working because obviously the game’s no over yet,” she said. “We just had to keep pushing.”
Smith led the Panthers with 14 kills, while Koester and Imani Williamson added 10 each. Koester also had nine digs while Lauren LePere had 14 digs and Reno finished with six kills.
The magical six-point run to close out the match sent Koester and her teammates flying into the Chatham Glenwood Sectional.
“(Elise) got the serve going and we kept the pressure on them,” Koester said. “We never gave up and that’s amazing. I was so happy. It’s amazing for us because we’ve been working hard all year — and we’re not done yet.”
The teams split two previous matches, both of which went the full three sets, and Thursday’s epic struggle was just as tight.
“Those games are so emotional and they’re one of our probably biggest emotional rivals, so it’s always going to be like that,” Massey said.
The Maroons got 10 kills each from Kaylee Hanger and Nikki Gaskill, with Gaskill also solid defensively with nine blocks. Katherine Koch added nine kills and 21 assists while Kacie Kinnikin had 14 digs.
“You knew from our previous meetings that it was going to be a close one,” Belleville West coach Lauren DeGirolamo said. “I didn’t think either side was ever going to let up, at the end they just had a little service run that we couldn’t stop.”
DeGirolamo knew her team was feeling sadness, but spoke about how far they had come this season.
“Obviously this is a disappointing way to end the season, but I think this year’s team accomplished more than anybody thought that they would,” she said. “These girls showed that Belleville West has a very strong volleyball tradition and no matter who we graduate each year, we’re going to come back and were going to be strong. I think they proved that.”
Class 2A Playoffs
Althoff (19-12) won its second straight regional title, knocking off Carlyle 25-9, 25-17 on Thursday to win the Carlyle Regional title. The Crusaders advance to the Pinckneyville Sectional, where they will face Hamilton County in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Setter Louise Comerford and outside hitter Emily Myatt had strong matches along with hitter Addie Burris.
“They had that focused, excited and determined mentality when they came out tonight,” Althoff coach Sara Dietrich said. “They still have that fire in them from losing in the super-sectional last year. Last year they were a little nervous, but this year they were confident. Addie was probably the hottest hitter tonight.”
At the Chester Regional, Red Bud (15-18-3) avenged two early-season losses to Gibault and won its first regional since 2002 by knocking off the Hawks 20-25, 25-23, 25-15.
Morgan Cowell had 16 kills for Red Bud while Sophie Richards had three block and two aces.
“They had beaten us the first two games of the season. That was on Aug, 23, so we’ve definitely come a long way since then,” Red Bud coach Erin Legendre said. “It’s just so exciting to see everybody getting behind us. Our seniors were in preschool and our freshmen were in diapers the last time we won a regional, so its pretty awesome to be able to pull it off.”
Red Bud plays Edwards County in a Pinckneyville Sectional semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Class 4A Alton Regional
Now 12-2 in its last 14 matches, the Edwardsville Tigers handled Quincy 25-14, 25-16 on Thursday to win the Alton Regional. The Tigers got 13 kills from junior Rachel Pranger while Kate Martin and Rachel Verdun added four kills each. Verdun also had 20 assists and three service aces for the Tigers.
Class 1A Playoffs
Valmeyer (20-14) claimed the regional title at its own regional, handing Thompsonville a 25-22, 25-15 defeat. Valmeyer will face Cobden in the Crab Orchard Sectional semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
New Athens (20-13) saw its season end at the Zeigler-Royalton Regional as the Yellow Jackets were beaten by top-seeded Norris City-Omaha-Enfield 13-25, 25-17, 30-28.
Metro-East Lutheran overcame a loss to Lovejoy in the first set and blazed its way back for a 21-25, 25-19, 25-19 regional championship win at its own regional. The Knights will face Clay City in the Lebanon Sectional semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.