With a healthier lineup that includes key players back from injuries, the Nashville Hornettes are making a late-season push that coach Josh Konkel hopes will lead to a long postseason run.
The Hornettes (16-8) knocked off River-to-River Conference rival Sparta on Tuesday to continue a positive climb in the win column.
Much of the improvement began to surface three weeks ago, when Nashville got senior setter Allison Grabowski back from a high ankle sprain and junior outside hitter Jamie Holle back from a shoulder injury.
“It gives us more depth and puts the players where they need to be rather than trying to cover up for them,” said Konkel, whose team lost to Gibault in the regional final last season. “The expectations are there, the ability is there. We do have a tough schedule and we know in our conference everyone is gunning for us, so we’ve got to be ready to play every single night.”
Four of Nashville’s volleyball players were also part of the school’s Class 2A state softball championship last spring. Sophomore Mackenzie McFeron scored the winning run in the state title game.
“All these girls have that drive and the desire to win,” Konkel said. “I know they don’t enjoy losing, I can tell you that.”
Nashville’s defensive support comes from senior libero Macie Kellerman (210 digs) and senior Kayla Wesselmann, while senior Alex Kubiak (118 kills, 34 blocks) and senior right side hitter Deidre Holzhauer also have played well.
Nashville won tournaments at Triad and Benton and is currently 5-2 in the conference, one game back of Anna-Jonesboro. The Hornettes own wins over Chatham Glenwood and Pinckneyville and have beaten 2014 sectional qualifier Benton twice.
Helping Nashville hang tough during the injuries were a talented sophomore group led by McFeron (155 kills), setter Paige Kasten (62 kills, 134 assists) and middle hitter Abigail Kempfer (72 kills, 38 blocks. Their performance up front aided the transition for a team that graduated five of its six front-row players.
Grabowski (170 assists, 32 service aces) and Holle have both made successful returns, making an already talented team even deeper.
“Now there’s a lot of things that can be interchangeable and that helps when you have that versatility,” Konkel said.
Thunder on the Kaskaskia River
New Athens (23-6) wrapped up another championship over the weekend, taking top honors at the Sparta Tournament.
The Yellow Jackets, who have won 19 of their previous 21 matches, outlasted Trico 25-23, 25-22 in the championship as all-tournament performers Alina Lance and Abby Marlow led the way. Trico had beaten New Athens in the first game of the tournament.
Facing Trico for the fourth time this season, New Athens survived another thriller in a regular-season game Tuesday that saw the Yellow Jackets post a 25-20, 22-25, 25-18 victory.
Marlow (222 kills, 64 blocks) and Lance (184 kills, 54 blocks) continue to throw a sold 1-2 punch at opponents but the Yellow Jackets continue to rely on depth as well.
They also are getting solid support from setter Savannah Idecker (7.4 assists per match), Madison Wilderman (83 kills), Leah Kiefer (66 kills) and Taylor Junge (173 digs).
Success is nothing new for New Athens, who has enjoyed a resurgence in girls athletic success in recent years. The volleyball team finished fourth at the Class 1A state tournament in 2013 and reached the super-sectional last season, finishing 32-6.
The New Athens girls basketball team and softball team each have won back-to-back regional titles, with the softball team adding a sectional championship in 2014.
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)
(tie) Belleville West (1)
Mater Dei (1)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (22-4), Freeburg (16-6), Belleville East (7-11), Highland (12-7), Alton (22-4-2), Waterloo (11-7)
Small-school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
New Athens (1)
Also receiving votes: Valmeyer (18-9), Wesclin (8-8), Carlyle (5-7), Dupo (9-10)