O’Fallon Panthers volleyball coach Melissa Massey is a bundle of energy, never staying in the same place for too long.
She has to be that way with four children of her own to care for and an entire volleyball team that she considers a second family. Her volleyball “kids” are making momma proud these days with a 14-1 record coming on the heels of three straight regional titles.
Whether people are noticing the Panthers or not doesn’t matter to Massey, who is more concerned with putting together a solid program that can make deep playoff runs year after year.
“I’m not sure what it’s going to take,” said Massey, whose team’s only loss is to Missouri powerhouse Eureka at the Edwardsville Tiger Classic. “It’s not about other people, it’s about out program and the kids that are out there competing. I have a humble group of kids.
“That’s the best gift that the volleyball gods could give me. They are so humble and appreciative, kids that just get out there and do their thing.”
They did it again Tuesday, brushing aside Belleville East in a 25-16, 25-18 Southwestern Conference victory a few days after winning the Lincoln Tournament championship with a 5-0 record. The Panthers defeated Quincy Notre Dame 25-23, 28-30, 15-9 in a marathon championship match.
O’Fallon also gained more respect by traveling to Breese on Sept. 8 and knocking off previously top-ranked Mater Dei 25-23, 25-19 on its home court.
“We’ve never beaten them there,” Massey said. “It was awesome, really cool for the kids to buy into the fact that they are good and they deserve that kind of win. They walked into a hostile environment and just kind of played their game; they really stayed focus and got the job done.”
What makes the Panthers special is an incredible amount of experience and depth that stretches all over the court.
Sophomore outside hitter Elise Smith leads the way with 99 kills, but four other players have 56 kills or more with junior Imani Williamson (77 kills), junior Mackenzie Koester (66), senior Anna Strake (65) and junior Cassie Reno (56).
Senior libero Renae Moeller has a team-leading 99 digs while Smith has 15 service aces.
Setters Allison Fournie (5.9 assists per match) and Koester (5.1 assists per match) each were named to the all-tournament team at Lincoln.
“We just move the ball around as much as we can,” Massey said. “We have enough hitters to do that. We have two great setters and two very strong middles (Strake and Reno). I feel like our middle game is very quick and we move them around a lot, plus they’re great blockers.
“I don’t see a lot of high school middles moving around as much as ours do.”
Reno had four blocks in the second set against East on Tuesday while Strake (34 blocks) and Koester (29 blocks) also keep opposing teams’ hitting in check.
Setters Fournie and Koester get plenty of special coaching attention on their setting skills in practice.
“I was a setter and half my coaching staff were setters, which you don’t typically find,” Massey said. “We are very, very hard on our setters and we work with them in practice a lot.”
Freeburg Midgets standing tall
After a 3-2 start under first-year coach Brooke Kloess, the Freeburg Midgets (11-5) went 8-3 in their next 11 matches. That includes a standout performance last Saturday that led to winning the Mascoutah Invitational Tournament.
“I knew that we were going to be the underdogs and people may overlook us a little bit,” Kloess said of a tourney that was switched from pool play to round robin format. “But I was also confident in our team knowing we could compete and could possibly make some noise.”
Freeburg’s best win during a 4-1 run at the tourney was defeating highly regarded Mascoutah on its own court, though it wasn’t easy in a 25-23, 27-25 slugfest.
“Mascoutah is a very good quality program with a lot of talent and lot of experience,” Kloess said. “For us to come up with that one was definitely huge and a big step for our program. The girls fought like they have never fought before and they played smart volleyball.”
Kloess said setter Jenna Rodriguez and hitter Hannah Bouas each had strong tournaments along with Savanna Stevens (34 kills, 30 digs, seven aces) and libero Emily Schaller (63 digs, 42 service points). Stevens leads Freeburg with 95 kills while Bouas has 77 kills.
The streak is over
Mater Dei’s extremely rare three-match losing streak ended Monday as the Knights (13-3) knocked off Cor Jesu of St. Louis 27-25, 25-19. That’s a solid win since Eureka, which beat Mater Dei in two sets to win the Edwardsville Tiger Classic, suffered one of its two losses to Cor Jesu,
Wesclin wins at Wood River
Wesclin claimed the Wood River Tournament championship with a 22-25, 25-23, 15-2 victory over Marquette.
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)
Belleville West (4)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (13-2), Freeburg (11-5), Highland (4-1), Belleville East (5-7), Alton (13-2), Central (3-6), East St. Louis (5-3)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Red Bud (2)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (5-5) ,Valmeyer (4-3), Carlyle (3-3), Dupo (6-7)