It wasn’t just the nine kills that O’Fallon High junior Imani Williamson sent thundering to the court Tuesday that was impressive.
It was how high the 5-foot-8 junior outside hitter was levitating off the court during the Panthers’ 25-16, 25-18 Southwestern Conference volleyball win over the Belleville East Lancers.
“She’s got a 31 1/2-inch vertical jump,” O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey said, and it figures to only get higher. “She is dominant when that set is up there. It’s hard to block kids like that because you just never know when they’re going to swing. As a blocker you’re kind of thrown off, especially on those high sets.”
“She did a great job.”
So did the Panthers (14-1), who were coming off a championship over the weekend at the Lincoln Tournament and have destroyed nearly everything in their path this season. Theier only loss was to St. Louis regional powerhouse Eureka at the Edwardsville Tiger Classic.
Williamson credited solid training by her father, Richard Williamson, who grew up in Jamaica and lived there until he was 12 before moving to Detroit and playing football and track.
“He trained me very, very hard over the summer, plus my coaches pushed me over the summer and during the season now,” Williamson said. “I feel like we really worked hard tonight and pushed through.”
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Belleville East (5-7 overall, 1-2 in SWC play) was trying to climb back into the first set after being down 7-2 early. The Lancers felt they had cut O’Fallon’s lead to 16-14 when a point was overturned on a replay.
O’Fallon, playing its conference opener, quickly gained momentum from there. East was within 16-13 in the first set and 20-18 in the second.
“We were in the Lincoln Tournament with them over the weekend but we didn’t really watch them or anything,” East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. “They’re a great team all the way around. They don’t have very many weak areas. They played great defense and they picked up everything we hit.
“I think our girls played awesome defense on our side, too. It just came down to some mental mistakes.”
While the Lancers were guilty on some errors, the bulk of O’Fallon’s points came on dominant plays at the net. East got five kills from Shelby Ridgeway and three from Erin Pruett.
“We made them earn their points,” Gaubatz said. “We just have to clean up our game, make sure we execute on free balls and make sure we put them away.
Along with Williamson, O’Fallon sophomore Elise Smith put down seven kills while junior Cassie Reno chipped in with four blocks, all in the second set. Senior Anna Strake contributed five kills for the Panthers and also had a five-point service run early in the match.
“I told her when we were looking at our stats I don’t think we had one block the first game, maybe a couple touches here and there but nothing dominant,” Massey said, recalling her remarks to the team after the first set. “That’s usually one of our strengths. She did a great job after that, she’s got that long (wingspan).”
Massey likes the wins, but wants the Panthers to keep evolving and improving as they clean up their game.
“I know on our end we were a little quiet, a little down, a little flat,” she said. “We’ve got some girls not feeling well and whatever, but I told them it doesn’t matter. When you’re playing in this conference, you’ve just got to be ready.”