In a talent-heavy field that could double as the volleyball version of an “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course, the annual Belleville East Metro Classic motto should be “survive, advance and bring a little luck to the court.”
That’s usually what it takes to get out of your pool, and it might take a little more to reach the gold bracket semifinals and championship match on Saturday. The 18-team tourney kicks off at 4:45 p.m. Friday at Belleville East’s two gyms and Wolf Branch Middle School in Swansea.
The gold, silver and bronze bracket championships are at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, with the gold championship in the Belleville East main gym.
Ursuline (12-3) from St. Louis has the top seed, followed by Belleville West (17-1), Normal (11-3), Mater Dei (15-3), Mascoutah (15-4), defending tourney champ Cor Jesu (13-9) from St. Louis and Columbia (17-2).
“It’s a collection of many of the top programs in the St. Louis area,” Mascoutah coach Todd Gober said. “It’s a great way to gauge where you are toward the later part of the season. There’s no gimme matches, there’s no easy opponents. It’s going to be a long, grueling weekend and something you really look forward to.
“Whether you’re in the gold, sliver or bronze bracket, you’re looking at tough matches for the entire weekend.”
There’s also an Illinois vs. Missouri volleyball tug of war throughout pool play and the brackets.
“I’m excited to see how the Illinois side does against the Missouri side,” Gober said. “There’s some pride on this side and we’re playing some pretty strong volleyball over here. We deserve some respect from the St. Louis schools and I think we get it too, because that’s why they come over here. They know they’re going to get good competition.”
There’s no gimme matches, there’s no easy opponents. It’s going to be a long, grueling weekend and something you really look forward to.
Mascoutah coach Todd Gober
Cor Jesu knocked off Normal in the championship match last season and Normal went on to a 36-5 record and finished third at the Class 4A state tourney. Columbia is 17-2 and could do no better than a No. 7 tourney seed.
“It is a challenge to seed and we try to get as any eyes on it as possible,” Belleville East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. “We always try to avoid common opponents and you want to try to play different competition and quality teams. You don’t want to play schools in your conference.”
Mater Dei (15-3) has bounced back strong from a rare three-game losing streak earlier this season. However, those losses were to Belleville West anad O’Fallon teams that both have one loss and Missouri powerhouse Eureka.
“We were not in a place we were happy being in,” Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers said. “We’ve made some pushes in the right direction since then and hopefully we see some of that this weekend.”
The Knights, who finished third at the East tourney in 2014 after losing to Cor Jesu in the semifinals, are in a pool with Quincy and Nerinx Hall.
“You’re up against two tough programs right off the bat,” Rakers said. “I don’t care what their record is, you know what kind of programs they have. You’ve got stay focused right off the bat and get your kids on the floor ready to play.”
Belleville West is looking to top its fifth-place finish of a year ago. The Maroons have thrived with setters Sam Schell and Kacie Kinnikin feeding hitters Kayla Juenger (123 kills), Kaylee Hanger (68 kills) and Nicole Braner (56 kills).
“It should be a really good tournament,” West coach Lauren DeGirolamo said. “There’s a ton of good teams so I think we’re definitely going to be challenged there with the St. Louis schools and the high caliber of other teams that are there.”
East tourney talk
Highland always has a chance with 6-foot-1 Alabama recruit Haylen McSparin (128 kills, 23 blocks) on the floor and Althoff is led by Central Arkansas recruit Alanna Bramwell (41 kills) and junior Emily Myatt (51 kills).
East’s top players are Shelby Ridgeway, Katey Sauwerwein, Janae Mosby and Holly Badgley.
Normal has three college recruits led by setter Rachel Maguire (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) and Micki Quakenbush (Olivet Nazarene).
Ursuline’s only losses are to St. Joseph’s Academy, Wheaton St. Francis and Villa Duchesne. The Bears are led by freshman outside hitter Anna Bair (148 kills), senior middle blocker Erica Maurer (91 kills) and junior setter Casey Cepicky.
McKendree recruit Kelly Voss (151 kills), Erica Lampe (90 kills) and Kat Maue (54 kills, 37 blocks) continue to pace the Mater Dei attack.
Mascoutah has won nine straight and is coming off a big Mississippi Valley Conference win over Highland. The Indians’ top players are Murray State recruit Megan Lindsay, Southern Indiana recruit Amanda Jung and sophomore Tieghan Morio.
Columbia has won seven straight since suffering its only two losses to Mascoutah and Murphysboro at the Mascoutah Tournament. The Eagles have one of the St. Louis area’s top outside hitters in junior Colene Hamilton (132 kills) along with juniors Alyssa Yochum (104 kills) and Jordan Hausmann (70 kills, 51 blocks).
Gibault’s top players are 2014 Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Player of the Year and senior Lauren Goldschmidt (130 kills), Kelly Dooley (96 kills) and setter Ashley Grohmann.
O’Fallon (18-1) leads the Southwestern Conference with a 4-0 mark and handed West its only loss. Mascoutah (15-4) holds the top spot in the Mississippi Valley Conference and is unbeaten in five league games.
Columbia (17-2-1) and Freeburg (14-6-1) are tied atop the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division standings with 5-0-1 league marks while New Athens (18-5, 5-0) is a game up on Valmeyer (13-8, 4-1) in the Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division standings.
Perennial South Seven Conference champ Althoff is unbeaten in four league matches.
BND Girls Volleyball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Tuesday:
Large-school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Belleville West (1)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (17-2-1), Freeburg (14-6-1), Belleville East (6-7), Alton (20-4-2), Waterloo (9-7), Central (3-10)
Small-school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
New Athens (1)
(tie) Althoff (1)
Red Bud (1)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (7-7), Valmeyer (13-8), Carlyle (4-6), Dupo (8-9)