With a Class 2A regional title on the line, Althoff senior Alanna Bramwell and the Crusaders were noticeably nervous early as they took on Wesclin on Thursday at Althoff High School.
But when Bramwell went to work, her Crusaders teammates followed.
The 6-foot-2 Bramwell had five of her eight kills to highlight a 19-6 scoring run to close out the first game and the Crusaders took it from there as they went on for a 25-17, 25-18 win.
Despite giving up several inches at nearly every position on the floor, the upset-minded Warriors (17-16) had five service winners in the opening five minutes of the match as they jumped out to leads of 9-2 and 11-6.
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But with Bramwell and 5-11 junior middle blocker Emily Myatt (6 kills) starting to find the range, the Crusaders attack finally got rolling.
“This is our first time being Class 2A and we realize that we have an opportunity in front of us. We (the seniors) had never won a regional title before and we were nervous before and early in the match,” Bramwell said. “We just had to relax and play our game. Once we did that we were fine.”
Refusing to fold, the feisty Warriors gave Althoff (16-17) all it wanted in Game Two until senior setter Aliyah Gillespie served the final five points to clinch the regional title for Althoff.
The win moves the Crusaders into the Nashville Sectional on Tuesday where they will take on (Albion) Edwards County at 7 p.m. in one of two semifinals. Edwards County defeated Hamilton County 25-21, 25-20 to win the Hamilton County Regional on Thursday in McLeansboro.
Althoff coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich was unaware of who the Crusaders sectional opponent would be. Less than 10 minutes after Althoff had wrapped up a regional, Dietrich was just happy her team had advanced.
“We were very nervous. We had the jitters but once we relaxed and started playing the way we can, we were alright,” Dietrich said. “I thought we blocked well and Alanna (Bramwell) had a good night for us. When she plays well, we play well as a team. That happened tonight.”
With senior Amanda Silva starting the match with a tip then adding a pair of service winners, Wesclin jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Julia Friederich then added a four-point run as the Warriors advantage grew to 9-2. Of Wesclin’s first nine points, five came when Althoff failed to return the ball serve on the net.
But after cutting the lead to 11-7 on block by Myatt, sophomore Jessica Hoffmann drew the Crusaders even closer with three straight service points.
Sophomore setter Louise Comerford gave Althoff its first lead at 17-16 when she served the second of five straight points. A kill by Annika Beal followed by a combination block by Bramwell and Leighten Kaiser and an ace by Comerford followed as the Crusaders lead grew to 20-16.
Katie Allard served the final four points and the first game ended on Bramwell’s fifth kill.
For Wesclin coach Becky Musso and her Warriors, it was the beginning of the end as despite nearly flawless execution, the size and strength of Althoff had begun to take its toll.
“We had a game plan, we worked on that game plan yesterday and tonight my team executed that game plan very well. It’s just that Althoff is so big. Their setter is taller then anybody on our team,” an emotional Musso said. “My team did everything I asked of them. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort they gave.”
Wesclin jumped out to leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the second game. But just a game away from a regional title, the Crusaders quickly regouped.