After knocking off Mater Dei in two sets earlier this season in Breese, the O’Fallon Panthers did it again Thursday in a much larger situation.
Behind nine kills and four blocks from senior Anna Strake, O’Fallon defeated the Knights 25-22, 25-21 to advance to the Class 4A Springfield Sectional championship.
“We definitely have confidence because we beat them in two earlier in the season,” said Strake, who had the game-winning kill in the first set. “But I think we were just all on our game. We were ready to play. We came off a pretty high win against Edwardsville, so everyone was pumped up and ready to play this game.
“I was pretty hyped all day, it was all I could think about. I give a lot of props to my setter (Alison Fournie), she did amazing tonight. We connected really well.”
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The same could be said for all the Panthers, who trailed traditional metro-east volleyball power Mater Dei (30-8) only once all night.
O’Fallon (32-5) will face Normal, a 25-21, 25-20 winner over Bloomington, at 6 p.m. Thursday in the sectional championship at Springfield High School. It will be the third sectional final appearance in school history for the Panthers, who also got 19 assists from Allison Fournie and eight digs from Renae Moeller.
NEXT STOP: SPRINGFIELD
Sophomore Elise Smith had the match-winning kill that sent the Panthers onto their next stop on the playoff road.
“I’m excited, I’m ready to go home and start preparing tonight because I need to do that,” O’Fallon coach Melissa Massey said. “I’m totally pumped. I’m just so proud of the girls.”
O’Fallon built a wall at the net that the Knights never really solved. It was manned by Strake and Cassie Reno in the middle along with Mackenzie Koester (three blocks).
“Blocking was definitely necessary because they have hitters that can put it straight down,” Strake said. “You have to get up there to block them.”
Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers admitted the Knights had some trouble at the net.
“Their blocking is what makes that team great,” Rakers said. “They blocked very well, for the most part, all the way across the net. They’re always getting hands in your face, so we needed to be smarter and we needed to be faster.
“Tonight just wasn’t our night.”
Massey wanted her team to be aggressive up front.
“(Strake) stepped up tonight. She played phenomenal,” Massey said. “I think both of our middles really kind of kept us in that game. Great touches, great blocks at clutch moments.”
Another big factor in the match was O’Fallon getting off to quick starts in each set and putting Mater Dei in an early hole. The Panthers jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first and 5-2 in the second, applying just the right amount of pressure to keep the Knights working hard just to stay with them.
Each time the Knights built a comeback, only to see O’Fallon gain control late in the set and put things away.
Mater Dei cut O’Fallon’s lead to one several times in the first set, including 23-22 on an ace by Kat Maue. In the second set, a five-point service run by Erica Lampe cut the deficit from 22-15 to 22-20, but the Panthers pulled away again.
“We put ourselves behind the eight-ball both sets,” Rakers said. “If we don’t do that, then we can use that as a run of us pushing ahead rather than a run of having to find our way back. For whatever reason I felt nerves hurt us more than it did them.”
Mater Dei got five kills from seniors Lampe and Maue and three from senior Kelly Voss.
VALMEYER ADVANCES, Metro-East Lutheran falls
Valmeyer advanced to its first sectional championship match since 2012 by knocking off Crab Orchard 25-20, 25-22 on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 1A Norris City Sectional.
“It was a good win,” Valmeyer coach Jenny Kohnz said. “We were up by six or seven points in the second set and kind of let them back in. We didn’t play our A-game but it was enough to win.”
Kohnz said Jordyn Killy had a big match in several key areas for the Pirates.
“She came on strong and was our to kill-getter tonight,” Kohnz said.
Valmeyer’s defense and serving was also strong thanks to Cierra Goldschmidt and Savannah Williams. Williams had a 10-point service run in the first set.
Clay City needed three sets to eliminate scrappy Metro-East Lutheran, winning the 1A St. Elmo Sectional semifinal match 25-20, 23-25, 25-21.