The O’Fallon Panthers forced their first match at the IHSA boys state volleyball tournament to go the distance, but it didn’t prevent them from coming out on the short end of a 29-31, 26-24, 25-20 loss to Vernon Hills.
It was clear these two teams were evenly matched. O’Fallon (25-10-6) didn’t have much size, but was resilient on defense.
On an Ian Thoren block, the Vernon Hills lead was 23-20. However following kills from Parker Roustio (nine kills) and Alex Belongy ( eight kills), the game was knotted at 24-24. In fact, the first game produced 15 ties and nine lead changes. O’Fallon won the digs contest 36-29, which helped the Panthers win game one.
Vernon Hills (31-9) stepped up its play in the second game, squeaking out a 26-24 victory to force a third game.
In that game, O’Fallon jumped out to a 7-5 lead and it was later tied at 17.
With Adam Weinberg serving for Vernon Hills, Lem Turner had back-to-back kills at the net. He then combined with Thoren to put down a block kill, putting the Cougars up 20-18.
Johnny McDonald played the hero at the very end for Vernon Hills. His back-to-back kills ended this match.
Roustio led the Panthers at the net with nine kills, while Belongy had eight. Lucas Hackmann and Jon Worthing helped run the O’Fallon offense with 15 and 10 assists, respectively. Hackmann also topped the Panthers in digs with 12.
Vernon Hills got a strong effort from senior Dylan DeBoer, who recorded 10 kills in the final two games. He finished the match with 24 kills, which included a deadly hitting percentage of .514. McDonald was next for the Cougars with six.
Turner had a big third game for Vernon Hills with five kills and three blocks.
With the victory, Vernon Hills advances into Saturday morning’s state semifinals where it will play (Orland Park) Sandburg.
Sandburg (36-4) reached the state title match with a 30-28, 18-25, 25-18 win over (Winnetka) New Trier, which had come into the state tournament on a 37-match win streak.