While pleased with her team’s 7-0 start, Belleville West volleyball coach Lauren DeGirolamo has picked up on another integral part of the Maroons’ early-season success.
“We are just a really smart volleyball team,” said DeGirolamo, whose squad recently won its third straight championship at the Quincy Tournament. “A lot of these girls have played so much volleyball between high school and club (teams), so they know what to do. We’re not having to work on the basics, we’re able to focus more on what we need to do to improve as a team.”
The Maroons dispatched Freeburg 25-16, 25-12 Tuesday and will get a much bigger test Thursday when they play host to the top-ranked Mater Dei Knights.
While they possess several strong individual players, DeGirolamo has been able to rely on a balanced attack that features offense, defense and individual skills.
She attributes it to good ball control.
“I think that’s helped us with our hitting and our attacking, just being in system and being able to put our hitters in a better situation,” DeGirolamo said.
The Maroons played five matches in Quincy on Saturday and rolled through the tourney field, being taken to three sets only by Pekin.
Outside hitter Kayla Juenger was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player and senior defensive specialist Ali Hanger earned all-tournament honors. Juenger leas the team with 31 kills and Kaylee Hanger is next with 22. Setters Sam Schell and Kacie Kinnikin have also been efficient and productive while Ali Hanger leads with 11 service aces.
“One of the reasons we were so successful was even though Ali and Kayla got all-tournament, everybody helped out,” DeGirolamo said. “Everybody produced and had some type of effect on a game or a set or the whole day.”
That being said, Juenger has been dominant for much of the season.
“She’s really good out there on the right side,” DeGirolamo said. “She’s got power, she’s able to hit lines and cross, but she’s also able to tip and keep the defense guessing about what she’s going to do. That makes her a really effective hitter.”
Along with the wins, West created the type of chemistry that comes from being away from home and working through a busy day on the court.
“You’re playing so much in such a short period of time that it’s good,” DeGirolamo said. “This is a brand new lineup and a brand new set of players. A tournament like that really helps you bond and just get comfortable playing with each other. You learn what to expect from the person next to you.”
After a strong performance at the Edwardsville Tiger Classic that led to a third-place finish, the O’Fallon Panthers made some more noise Tuesday by traveling to Breese and knocking off top-ranked Mater Dei 25-23, 25-19.
The loss was the second straight for Mater Dei, which hadn’t lost consecutive matches in more than five seasons.
Meanwhile, second-ranked O’Fallon (8-1) is looking like one of several contenders for the Southwestern Conference title.
Columbia Eagles soaring
The scary thing about Columbia’s 8-0 record is that Eagles coach Kelly Landgraf says there’s still plenty of room for growth and improvement.
“We’ve been really good about jumping out early, which is nice,” said Landgraf, whose club knocked off Monroe County rival Gibault 21-13, 21-16 Saturday to win the Marissa-Counterville-New Athens Labor Day Tournament. “But sometimes we get too comfortable and will let some teams back in.”
The Eagles ran through Carlyle on Tuesday for their eighth straight win. Columbia has beaten Althoff, Gibault and East St. Louis and also handed Alton its only loss.
Columbia junior Colene Hamilton has 57 kills while Alyssa Yochum has 24 and Shea Bradshaw has 21. Jordan Hausmann leads with 20 blocks and Kelly Metter, the lone Columbia player on the Marissa all-tournament team, has a team-high 52 service points.
“Our defense and our passing has been phenomenal, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Landgraf said. “Our setters are extremely accurate and we’ve got great hitters. We are loaded with hitters, so I’m very comfortable wtih all positions on our floor right now.”
Columbia and Mascoutah are two of the top contenders in Saturday’s Mascoutah Invitational Tournament.
“We’re going to be seeing some more pressure situations and I think it will be good to see how the girls handle that,” Landgraf said. “It will be nice to see how we’ve evolved when we play some of those tough teams.”
Red Bud was third at the Marissa-Coulterville tourney, New Athens was sixth and Wesclin was seventh.
Among the local players on the all-tournament team were Ashley Grohmann and Lauren Goldschmidt (Gibault), Morgan Cowell and Claudia Mehring (Red Bud), Abby Marlow and Alina Lance (New Athens), Olivia Krebs and Ellie Wessel (Wesclin), Damadj Johnson (East St. Louis) and Caitlyn Brizzi (Dupo).
News-Democrat Girls Volleyball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Mater Dei (6)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (8-0), Highland (2-0), Freeburg (5-4), Belleville East (1-3), Alton (7-1), Central (1-1), East St. Louis (3-3)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Valmeyer (3-2), Wesclin (4-3), Carlyle (3-2), Metro-East Lutheran (2-5)