On a night when the Belleville West Maroons needed to be at their best against the premier boys volleyball program in southern Illinois, they were on Friday at Edwardsville High School.
Belleville West senior Nick Stevenson, the top offensive player in the St. Louis area, was nearly unstoppable as he poured down a match-high 22 kills and the Maroons overcame the size and experience of talented O’Fallon for a 27-25, 27-25 win in a semifinal match of the Lincoln-Way East Volleyball Sectional.
The Southwestern Conference champions, O’Fallon (23-9-3), used a four-point service run by Jon Worthing to score four of the first five points of the match and led by as much as a 15-8 margin following the second of two Maroons hitting errors on the serve of Luke Meidel.
But Stevenson, who leads the entire St. Louis area with nearly 500 kills for the season, went to work as he helped bring the Maroons back. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter responded with four straight kills to bring West to within two points and then throttled the Panthers defense with back to-back kills to give West (23-14-1) its first lead of the night at 22-21.
“I was a little down early when they (O’Fallon) had a good lead on us, but when we tied it for the first time and then took the lead, it got us going,” Stevenson said. “Coach (Austin) Betz is always on us to play with more energy and after we took the lead, I think our energy level picked up and we were able to maintain it for the rest of the match.”
West led 24-23 before a kill by O’Fallon senior Lucas Hackmann gave the Panthers hope late in gane one. But after an exchange of possessions, a kill by Stevenson — his 12th of the opening game — followed by a Panthers error, gave West a 27-25 win.
Game two was close all of the way. West, which got 30 assists from Sharron Clay and a brilliant effort from defensive specialist Blake Grosse, who added 12 digs, was able to prevail as it moved into the sectional title match on Tuesday against Lincoln-Way East at Lincoln-Way East High School.
LIncoln-Way East defeated Minooka in three games in the other semifinal on Friday. The postseason ride is the longest in the history of the Belleville West program as the Maroons defeated Edwardsville to win its first regional title. They are now a win away from a first trip to the state finals.
“That would be nice but we’ve got our work cut out for us no matter who we play for the sectional title. It’s been a postseason of firsts and so it would be nice to qualifty for our first state tournament,” West coach Austin Betz said.
O’Fallon battles back
O’Fallon jumped out to a 4-1 lead again on in game two on a four-point service run by Luke Meidel and getting kills from Mike Hovick and Gabe Norsigian, managed to lead 10-6.
But with the Maroons Trevor Pentland serving a tip by Henry Holm and a block by Timothy Neff, tied the game at 10.
But try as it might, O’Fallon could never get on a long streak of points to open the gap between themselves and the Maroons.
“The difference in the match was their defense. They were able to pick up almost everything,” O’Fallon coach Kaitlyn Hagarty said. “It’s never easy to see a season end, especially with this group of kids. They had a huge target on their backs all year after getting to state last season and they just had a tremendous work ethic. I was proud to be their coach.”