There wasn’t much difference in the area’s top-ranked volleyball squads Tuesday, but the O’Fallon Panthers found just enough extra to escape with a victory.
Second-ranked O’Fallon handed top-ranked Belleville West its first defeat this season, riding a roller-coaster of emotions through a 25-22, 27-25 Southwestern Conference win.
“I almost threw up today like four times, I’m not gonna lie,” joked O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey, whose team improved to 16-1 overall and 2-0 in the SWC. “I was like, this is ridiculous, this is high school volleyball, but the kids and the fans and everybody have made it to be such a big deal. I get that, it was such a great heated volleyball match
“I just wanted my girls to play composed.”
O’Fallon sophomore Elise Smith had nine kills and junior Imani Willamson had seven with senior Renae Moeller contributing 10 digs.
The first set was tied 22-22 and the second was tied 23-23 and 25-25. It was that close as not a lot differentiated these two conference rivals.
O’Fallon trailed Belleville West 12-7 in the first set and was down 23-21 late in the second, but each time found a way to fight off the Maroons.
“I did not want to go to three (sets),” Massey said. “I’m not going to lie.”
Senior Kayla Juenger had nine kills for Belleville West (15-1, 0-1) while junior Nikki Gaskill and senior Nicole Braner added five kills each. Sam Schell and Kacie Kinnikin combined for 23 assists for the Maroons and Ali Hanger had seven digs.
Leading 23-21 in the second set, West committed two errors that allowed the Panthers to tie it. Anna Strake served up an ace to put the Panthers at match point, but West tied it on a Juenger kill.
Two more kills by Smith pushed O’Fallon to the brink and then Smith served up an ace that clinched the win.
“This is one game in a season of 35 games,” West coach Lauren DeGirolamo said. “Does that make it any less meaningful? No, obviously we wanted to win it, but we can’t let it get our spirits down. We’re 15-1, we can’t complain about that.”
SOPHOMORE WITH TALENT
Massey said Smith continues to impress as she leads the Panthers with 106 kills.
“Elise played phenomenal,” Massey said. “It’s so crazy because she is a sophomore, I feel like she doesn’t get a lot of sets because the girls are still trying to trust her. But I feel like she’s earned their trust, especially after something like this. She is an amazing volleyball poayer, one of the most fluid swings I’ve ever seen in my life.”
DeGirolamo said the Panthers’ tall lineup was effective, but so was their ability to handle some extremely tough serves from the Maroons.
“We were able to serve them tough and get them out of system, and they were still able to find a way to score on us,” DeGirolamo said. “They defended us really well too, they dug us and ran it back at us and scored.”
Junior Mackenzie Koester had five kills in the first set for O’Fallon, which didn’t lead until breaking a 13-13 tie. It was tied at 22 when Anna Strake’s kill set the stage for a 25-22 win.
“It just came down to a couple points her or there,” DeGirolamo said. “It’s tough to be on the losing end of it but O’Fallon's got a really good team this year.”