High School Sports

Depth will keep O’Fallon spikers at top of the SWC

For O'Fallon, the key to success on the volleyball court has, traditionally, been size.

In 2015, head coach Melissa Massey says depth will help carry the Lady Panthers into post season.

Among those lost from a 2014 team that finished 29-9 with a regional championship were 6-foot outsider hitter Aubrey Keilbach and 6-1 middle hitter McKenna James, whose 315 kills and 127 blocks, respectively, led the team.

But enough experience and skill — if not height — returns at every position that Massey isn't concerned.

"We don't have the 6-2 hitter that we've had in the past, but that's not going to be a problem. I'd rather we be really solid at every spot on the floor than strong in that one spot.

"I have a good group that has played together for a long time."

Three-year starter Anna Strake, 5-foot-10, will anchor the front line at middle hitter. Her 120 kills were fourth on the team, but with just 256 attacks, she was the most efficient. She also had 85 blocks.

On the outside will be sophomore Elise Smith (118 kills, 69 blocks) and junior Imani Williamson (108 kills, 20 blocks).

Junior McKenzie Koester, who had 128 kills and 52 blocks last year will move to setter and share time with junior Alison Fournie.

"A big change will be that McKenzie is moving to setter. That will be a challenge for her, but I'm totally confident in her ability," Massey said. "Elise is moving from the right side to the outside. She is a true outside hitter, but pursued the right side as a freshman so she could get more playing time."

Juniors Cassie Reno and Jillian Gasser also will get some time on the front line.

A pair of seniors and three-year starters will defend the back court. Renae Moeller led the Panthers last season with 446 serves received against just 36 errors (92 percent). She also had a team-high 375 digs.

Becca Althoff successfully handled 93 percent of her 209 serves received and had 219 digs.

Both Althoff and Moeller were 97 percent efficient at the service line.

"It's kind of become a cliche for coaches to say, but it's so true of Becca, that she comes every single day and gives 100 percent," Massey said. "She and Moeller are just the kind of kids you know exactly what to expect from. You can count on both having very good years."

O'Fallon got off to a good start to their season with a three-set win at Waterloo Thursday. The Panthers have traditionally participated in the annual Carbondale Tournament, which they won in 2014. This year, they'll make the switch to the Edwardsville's Tiger Classic, Sept. 4-5.

Massey said the tournament will give her a better idea of how they stack up in the always competitive Southwestern Conference.

"We have not been able to win the Southwestern Conference yet and that's one of our goals," Massey said. "We've been going to Carbondale for years, but it was just time to make the move. We think this gives us a better idea of where we're at as a team and how we need to improve for the post season."

Sports Editor Todd Eschman can be reached at teschman@bnd.com or 239-2540. Follow him on Twitter: @tceschman.