The O'Fallon Panthers boys volleyball program has a new look and a new coach in Amy Sheehan as the 2018 season gets underway.
A few days removed from a win over the Edwardsville Tigers in an early-season showdown, the Panthers got strong play from seniors Jake Baldus and Justin Hovick as they defeated Belleville West 25-20, 25-19 in a Southwestern Conference match Tuesday.
Taking advantage of six service errors by the Maroons (5-3), O'Fallon took an early lead in the first game, then used a four-point service run by senior Bryce Backhus to put the game away. A kill by Hovick eventually clinched the opening game for the Panthers.
The Maroons' Tony Brooks began the second game with a four-point service run, but behind the play of senior Romell Williams, the Panthers chipped away and took control. Williams led the way with an early five-point service run. Junior Eric Toftemark clinched the win for O'Fallon (3-0) with a kill up the middle of the court on match point.
"I'm pleased. We certainly have a lot of work to do. But this win tonight is one that we can continue to build upon," Sheehan said. "We did a much better job of serving than we did against Edwardsville, when we had 17 service errors.
"We wanted to get our middle (blocker) Jake Baldus more involved in the offense tonight, and we did that, and I thought Justin Hovick had a good night on the outside for us."
The former girls varsity coach at Triad, Sheehan is back coaching at the high school level for the first time in six years. Her son, Connor Sheehan, is a member of the Panthers' varsity roster as a sophomore.
"I have been coaching, just not at the high school level. I coach a boys club team, and I had been coaching a junior high boys team. Everybody has been great here at O'Fallon. It's nice to have a very supportive administration and athletic department," she said.
"I'm still working at Triad, and so we've had to move back the practice sessions each day. But when I get here, the boys are on the court and ready to go. Like I said, it's been an adjustment with the team learning a new system. But I like what I see three matches into the year."
One thing Belleville West coach Austin Betz did not like seeing Tuesday was the Maroons' service errors. West had five of its first seven service attempts either go into the net or long. The Maroons ended the night with 11 service errors.
"To serve 49 times and have 11 errors ... that's not a very good percentage," Betz said. "If we cut those in half, it's a much closer match.
"Not too make excuses, but it's still early in the season, and we still have some work to do. The key is to keep working and improve as we go along."