Any suspicions Belleville West volleyball coach Lauren DeGirolamo had about her team possibly looking past the semifinals were gone quickly Tuesday at the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
West laid down a powerful 6-0 start behind the serving of Sam Schell and overwhelmed Belleville East 25-9, 25-14 to set up a rematch against Mater Dei in the regional final at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s a brand new season and it doesn’t matter what your records were or what happened when you played a team previously,” said DeGirolamo, whose 33-3 team has won five straight and 18 of its last 20. “Any time it’s an East-West game people get excited, so we tried to make a goal to start early and jump out to an early lead.
“We knew that we had to play a game to get to the championship and we knew that without this one, we wouldn’t get there.”
AT YOUR SERVICE
Serving played a big role in the victory along with 10 kills by Maroons senior Kayla Juenger. West had seven service aces, including three by Kacie Kinnikin and three by Schell, forcing Belleville East (19-18) out of its offense and struggling to keep up.
Schell, who also had 14 assists, had the early six-point run in the first set and Kinnikin reeled off seven straight points in the second.
Any time you can serve a team tough and get them out of system, it makes it hard for them to run an offense. Whoever wins the serving and passing battle usually ends up victorious in the end.
West coach Lauren DeGirolamo
“Any time you can serve a team tough and get them out of system, it makes it hard for them to run an offense,” said DeGirolamo, whose team’s aggressive play helped force East into 17 errors. “Whoever wins the serving and passing battle usually ends up victorious in the end. Getting those couple of long runs really did help us.”
Nicole Braner added six kills for West, which continues to pile up wins at an alarming rate.
“They don’t make many errors,” Belleville East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. “They run a pretty fast offense and they move their hitters around a lot. They work well out of system, too.”
Mater Dei (29-7) reached the final with a forfeit win over East St. Louis because of the District 189 teachers strike. The Knights lost a marathon match at Belleville West on Sept. 10, with the Maroons pulling out a 23-25, 25-23, 30-28 victory.
Gaubatz did what she could to try to stop the flow of early momentum toward the West side, calling timeouts in the first set with the Lancers down 12-3 and 19-5, but the Maroons didn’t seem to mind.
They don’t make many errors. They run a pretty fast offense and they move their hitters around a lot. They work well out of system, too.
East coach Stefanie Gaubatz on Belleville West
East jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the second set before the service run by Kinnikin and several kills by Braner stopped the Lancers cold.
The Lancers, who had won five in a row and 10 of their previous 12 matches, finished 19-18. East got four kills from Shelby Ridgeway and three from Katey Sauerwein.
“We just came out flat,” Gaubatz said. “I feel like we were ready to play, we were prepared, but I don’t know if it was nerves...I don’t know what it was. We just came out flat and didn’t execute on our end.”
DeGirolamo said the secret to her team’s success may lie in its chemistry.
“They’re all just really comfortable with each other,” she said. “They’ve played a lot of volleyball and they’ve played a lot together. I think we just mesh and play well, everybody wants to win and continue the season as long as we can.”