Gibault Hawks coach Heather Lazarides enjoys the consistency and stability she has helped build with her volleyball program.
The Hawks have won 24 or more matches four times in her five seasons, including a 30-10 mark in 2011 when Gibault finished fourth at the state tournament. Another recent benefit for Lazarides has been younger sisters of her former players finding their way into the varsity lineup.
“All of these kids except two of them had big sisters that played for me,” said Lazarides, whose team won its first five games this season and is unbeaten at the Marissa-New Athens Labor Day Tournament. “They’ve all grown up around the game and learned to trust the team and trust me as a coach.
“That’s the cool thing about Gibault. One of the things I love about it is the little sisters, they are waiting and dying to play on that court someday. They’re just waiting for their chance to be on that court. It’s growing into a little bit of a tradition, which is nice because we didn’t have much of that a few years back.”
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The Hawks are first in the latest Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) rankings and appear to have the talent to be one of the region’s top 2A teams once again. All this despite losing back-to-back BND Small-School Player of the Year Lauren Goldschmidt to graduation, and Rockhurst College.
“Everyone thought we would take a big hit, but I’m returning three kids that have started since their sophomore year,” said Lazarides, who starts six seniors.
The three returning seniors with the most starting experience are outside hitter Kelly Dooley, middle hitter Caralyn Papenberg and Bailey Lehmann, who moved from defensive specialist to outside hitter.
Dooley, second on the team behind Goldschmidt in kills last season, is off to a strong start with a team-leading 34 kills and 33 digs through four matches.
“Sometimes just being around the varsity game, even if you’re playing a different role, you learn from osmosis,” Lazarides said of Dooley, who was more of a role player in the past. “(Kelly) learned a lot from Lauren and she’s implementing that this year. Kelly has done such a great job of stepping up and filling that captain role. Her serving, her serve-receive and her defense and offense are all improved.”
Lehmann (18 kills, 22 digs) and Papenberg (15 kills) have also been key contributors along with Hillary Wessel (71 assists, 16 service aces), right-side hitter Molly Branz (11 kills) and libero Rachel Lindauer.
“I think the biggest difference is we relied really heavily on the outside last year,” Lazarides said. “This year we have a really balanced attack. We’re getting kills from the outside, the opposite side and the middle. It’s good to have that versatility in your offense.”
Midgets making a push
Freeburg volleyball coach Brooke Kloess will be the first to admit there is nothing easy about the metro-east Class 3A playoff scene once again this season. Mascoutah went to state last season, Columbia and Highland were solid contenders — and now perennial powerhouse Mater Dei returns to 3A after a year in 4A.
Since taking over last season, Kloess’ goal is to get the Midgets into that equation.
“I definitely think that’s a tough road in the playoffs,” she said. “On any given night if we’re on, we can compete with any team.”
Freeburg won its first three games and Kloess said one difference she sees this season is on the mental side. She saw it early on as the Midgets outlasted an improved Waterloo squad in a three-set thriller to open the season.
“It was a very intense match,” said Kloess, whose team survived despite being down 23-21 in the third set. “I was a little concerned about the mental part of our game and the mental toughness, but the girls completely proved me wrong. They never let Waterloo get on big runs, they never had any breakdowns. After a couple points we’d come back and make our own runs.
“I thought that we had a lot of competitors that night. They stuck together as a team and got the job done.”
Among the Midgets’ top weapons are senior setter Abby Quirin (55 assists), junior outside hitter Miranda Schulte (21 kills), senior outside hitter Hannah Bouas (19 kills), plus senior middle hitter Hannah Harbaugh and junior Maddie Hurd (18 kills). Sophomore libero Chasity Hill has returned from a torn ACL while Monica Money leads with 25 service points.
Kloess said her starters gained valuable experience last season now being put to good use.
“I think that’s the biggest difference,” she said. “We’re able to spread the ball around a lot more.”
Edwardsville Tiger Classic
One of the early ways to determine some of the best volleyball talent in the area is by checking out the annual Edwardsville Tiger Classic. Play begins at 5 p.m. Friday with games at both gyms and features talented squads and players not only from the metro-east, but St. Louis and central Illinois.
Pool play continues Saturday, followed by the semifinals and the 2 p.m. championship and third-place matches.
Mater Dei won the tournament four straight times from 2010 to 2013, then lost in the title match to Bloomington in 2014 and to Eureka (Mo.) last season. Talent-laden Eureka is back to defend its title and should be pushed hard by several teams, with the host Edwardsville Tigers and O’Fallon Panthers both hoping to reach the finals along with Mater Dei, Freeburg and Collinsville.
O’Fallon defeated Edwardsville in the third-place match last season.
Playoff sites released
The Illinois High School Association released its playoff host sites Wednesday and Wesclin High will play host to a Class 2A super-sectional. Lebanon will host a Class 1A sectional and Mascoutah plays host to a Class 3A sectional.
O’Fallon and Alton were chosen to host Class 4A regionals.