Looking for the kind of signature win that could fuel even more confidence for the playoffs, the Columbia Eagles found it Monday night in their own gym,.
The red-hot Class 3A Eagles knocked off one of the area’s top teams in two sets, defeating Class 4A power O’Fallon 25-21, 25-22 behind 12 kills from junior Colene Hamilton and a swarming defense that refused to crack.
“It’s a huge win,” Hamilton said after Columbia (27-4) won its ninth straight match coming on the heels of a championship over the weekend at the Central Monster Mash Tournament. “I think tonight we played more as a team. We kept each other when we we re down. We flowed really well together tonight.”
Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf called it the Eagles’ best win of the season, one she hopes is a sign of better things to come in the playoffs.
“By far, best match,” Landgraf said. “To get them in two games ... I told the girls before the game be ready for a long night, it’s goign ot be a long night. Point by point we’re going to have to keep our composure.”
O’Fallon (26-5) was second in the BND Large-School Volleyball Rankings last week and Columbia was sixth. Ironically, Columbia beat O’Fallon in two sets last year by nearly identical scores.
That’s exactly what happened as the Eagles seemed to dig a bit deeper each time O’Fallon got closer.
“We’ve never really had that night where everyone was on,” Landgraf said. “I felt like tonight we were really on. We kept the ball in, we didn’t make a lot of unforced errors and it was all about composure.”
In the first set, a five-point service run by Columbia’s Elizabeth Fleming erased an 18-16 O’Fallon lead. Junior Alyssa Yochum had three of her six kills in the final flurry of points and Hamilton’s diving slam over the net clinched the win.
“This is the kind of game that she lives for,” Landgraf said of Hamilton, one of the area’s top kill leaders. “It was a big game, she was ready for it. All the girls were ready for it and our defense were absolutely wonderful.”
Landgraf singled out junior Kelly Metter and senior Claire Long for their defensive handiwork that helped lead to the victory.’
“Kelly Metter had 10 digs (and) she he was nearly flawless on serve receive,” Landgraf said.
TOUGH LOSS FOR O’FALLON
Flawless was not a word that came up during O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey’s description of the match. The Panthers were coming off a second-place finish to Marist in their own O’Fallon Autumn Classic.
O’Fallon did fight back hard from an 18-11 deficit in the second set Monday and fought off three consecutive match points by Columbia before a Yochum kill ended things.
“We’re just kind of in a little bit of a roller coaster ride now and just trying to find the groove that we had at the beginning of the year,” Massey said. “We’re trying to make some lineup changes and I don’t know if that’s getting to them or what, but at the end of the day no excuses. You’ve just got to go out and compete.”
Sophomore Elise Smith had five kills and junior Cassie Reno had five kills and two blocks for the Panthers, who also committed an uncharacteristically high 18 errors.
Massey credited Columbia for a strong performance.
“I think they’re a great team,” she said. “People don’t pay them enough attention and I knew that going into this season. Whoever they have in their playoffs should be nervous because they’re a good team.”