Throughout the regular season and one postseason match, the Columbia Eagles used the brilliance of senior outside hitter Colene Hamilton, a talented and experienced attack and a strong defense to record 34 straight wins.
Victory No. 35 came much the same way.
Hamilton and Kelly Metter combined for 13 kills while senior setter Elizabeth Fleming handed out 22 assists as the Eagles defeated Waterloo 25-12, 25-10 on Thursday in the title match of the Class 3A Columbia Volleyball Regional.
With a pair of straight set wins over Waterloo (23-9) already to its credit, the Eagles used a pair of blocks from Alyssa Yochum early and eight service points from Hamilton to slowly pull away in game one.
An eight point service run by Elizabeth Stone paved the way in game two for the Eagles (35-0) who turned a four point lead into a 17-5 cushion before putting away the Bulldogs for the regional championship.
“We came out from the beginning tonight and just played very well. Everything was just working well early and it carried over for the rest of the match,” Hamilton said. “We weren’t really worried, playing Waterloo for a third time this year. We just had to come out and play our game and we did that.
“It feels good that we’re playing as well as we are right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The win lifts Columbia into the Mascoutah Sectional on Tuesday where it will take on Massac County at 6:30 p.m. Massac County defeated Anna-Jonesboro 25-21, 25-9 in the final of the Carterville Regional on Thursday.
The impressive win against the Bulldogs, which advanced to the title match win over Freeburg, was a continuation of dominating play by the Eagles who have been pushed to three games in a match only twice all season. And heading into the sectional semifinals, don’t expect coach Kelly Landgraf to change a thing.
“The way we’ve played up to this point of the season has worked just fine. We’re not going to change anything now,” Landgraf said. “Tonight I thought we came out and played with a lot of focus and determination from the start of the match and just played very well.
“Defensively, we came out and were aggressive and did a good job on Kathryn (Finnerty) and Elizabeth (Fleming) did a great job of distributing the ball to all of our hitters. Like I told the girls, we just need to keep playing the way we have this year.”
Waterloo, getting a service point from Hannah Cope, trailed just 5-4 early in the first game when Hamilton asserted herself for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.
A tip by Hamilton sent her to the service line where tips by Shea Bradshaw and Yochum followed by a Bulldogs hitting error, gave the Eagles a 9-4 lead and early control of the match.
Fleming then increased the lead to 20-9 later with a four point run on an ace and kills by Bradshaw and Yochum. Seconds later, senior middle hitter Jordan Hausmann had a kill on game point and the Eagles were a step away from the regional championship with a 25-12 opening game win.
Unfortunately for coach Angie Crawford’s Bulldogs squad, things would get no better in game two as with Fleming using all of the Eagles weapons, Waterloo was over-matched.
“Columbia has such a solid team. They have such a solid offense and they have a solid defense. Tonight, their setter (Fleming) did a great job of getting the ball to the hitters in a position where they could put the ball down,” Crawford said. “The one thing I can say about my team is that they played with a lot of heart. They gave it everything they had.”
Leading 9-5 following a point by Yochum midway in game two, the Eagles put the match away with an eight-point run. A block and kill by Kelly Metter along with a kill from Bradshaw keyed the run which also featured four hitting errors by Waterloo.