With the Belleville city volleyball championship on the line Monday, it was the top volleyball player in town who simply stole the show.
Belleville West junior Nick Stephenson had a hand in eight of his team’ first 10 points and never let up as he helped the Maroons clinch the Belleville city title with a 25-18, 25-16 win over Althoff.
A 6-foot-1 outside hitter, Stevenson opened the first game with four of his game-high 17 kills, then used a block from Nick Givens and a tip at the net by Tim Neff to help spark a three-point service run as West took an early 8-4 lead.
When Stephenson added two more kills, the Maroons lead was 10-5 and Althoff (2-5) would get no closer than four points for the remainder of the opening game.
“Nick came out and played very well tonight. But the thing I liked the most was that he mixed up his shots. Some of his kills were down the middle but he also hit some down both lines,” Belleville West coach Lauren DeGirolamo said. “But I have to say that some of his teammates were doing a great job of setting him in a position where hed a chance to put the shots away.”
Neff, Ben Harsin and Justin Buettner all had mutiple kills in game two while Stephenson kept putting away winners as West (10-6) finally put away the game Crusaders to end the match. It was Stephenson who sent his 17th and final kill by the Crusaders defense on match point to help the Maroons triumph and end their quest to win the city championship.
“I really didn’t know what to expect today,” DeGirolamo said. “I didn’t know how we would react to playing for the city title. And we had our prom last weekend and I wasn’t sure what kind of effort we would get after that either. But I was pleased.
“We had some good digs, we passed the ball well and when we had a chance to put points away we did that as well. We’re playing well right now but we’ve got some things we need to work on. But we want to be playing our best volleyball late in the season. That’s our goal.”
Althoff first-year coach Joe Murray also said he hopes the Crusaders will peak in late May. Young and inexperienced before the season, Althoff continues to show signs of improvement with Von Alst, Cody Harris and Hayden Buss leading the way. All three players had kills in the opening seconds of game two as the Crusaders stayed close to the mighty Maroons.
“We’re getting better. The kids are getting more floor time and we’re moving the ball better and giving our hitters more opportunities chances to put away points. I think anytime we have long exchanges like we did a couple of times tonight, it helps our confidence. We just have to learn to put points away when we have the chance,” Murray said. “Nick (Stephenson) was almost unstoppable tonight. He tips, he blocks, he’s unselfish and tonight he had kills from the back row. He also has a lot of power. He is one strong player.”
Tied at 3 in game two, Nick Horton gave West the lead for good with a service ace and when Neff followed with a kill, West had a 5-3 lead. Seconds later Tim Donahue also fired three straight winners as Althoff tied the game at 7.
Neff gave his team back the serve when he had a block and followed with four straight service points as the Maroons lead reached 12-7.